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Study Finds Wide Disparity in Global Mesothelioma Rates

New evidence shows there is wide disparity in global rates of malignant mesothelioma, the aggressive disease also known as “asbestos cancer”. The study compared cross sectional mortality rates over a four-year period, as well as trends over almost 20 years (1994 – 2013).

The data was compiled by Egyptian oncologist Omar Abdel-Rahman of Ain Shams University in Cairo and reveals almost a 10-fold variation in mortality rates between the highest and lowest of the 30 countries studied.

Highest and Lowest Mesothelioma Death Rates

Among the 30 countries, the UK had the highest number of per capita mesothelioma deaths—6.25 per 100,000 people. The UK’s high mesothelioma rates have been blamed on the widespread use of asbestos-containing products in the rebuilding of the country after World War II.

The lowest mesothelioma death rates over the four-year period were found in Portugal where the rate was only 0.64 per 100,000 people.

Among the countries with the highest overall mesothelioma mortality rates, the UK also had the highest number of women with mesothelioma (1.08 per 100,000). Ireland had the fewest female mesothelioma deaths (0.26 per 100,000).

Some Good News for Mesothelioma in the US

But the report does contain some good news for the UK, the US, and most other developed countries. In both of those countries, plus Sweden, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, malignant mesothelioma was said to be “significantly declining” among men over the last ten years.


Unfortunately, the news was not good for much of Asia (Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea), Poland, and Spain where mesothelioma mortality among men was “significantly rising”. In the remaining countries studied, death rates from all types of mesothelioma were holding steady.

Italy was the only country in which the number of women dying of mesothelioma was declining. In three countries (Poland, Argentina, and Republic of Korea), mesothelioma among women was steadily rising.

Asbestos Bans Have Not Significantly Impacted Mesothelioma Deaths

Since malignant mesothelioma was linked to asbestos exposure, many countries have instituted asbestos bans in an effort to prevent more deaths.

While such bans will have an impact over time, mesothelioma’s long latency period means it may be several more years before before the effects are evident in the mesothelioma death rates.

Meanwhile, researchers around the world continue to search for a mesothelioma cure. At present, even the most powerful cancer treatments have little effect on mesothelioma tumors.

The mortality report concludes, “There is a worldwide variability in the burden and trends of mesothelioma mortality; and despite the ban on asbestos in many countries, mesothelioma still represents an important cause of mortality.”


Abdel-Rahman, O, “Global Trends in Mortality from Malignant Mesothelioma; Analysis of WHO Mortality Database (1994-2013)”, February 9, 2018, The Clinical Respiratory Journal, Epub ahead of print

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