Compared to many other types of cancer, mesothelioma is relatively rare, but it is also one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. Each year in the United States, about 2,000 to 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed. Most are among individuals who once worked with toxic asbestos, including veterans, shipbuilders, electricians, plumbers, construction workers, insulators, welders, railroad workers, and many others.
The disease was at its peak from the 1970s through the 1990s, and though it has begun to stabilize, experts predict that fall-out from incidents like the World Trade Center bombing might create another surge of cases in years to come.
The majority of persons that develop mesothelioma are men over 55 years of age. As a matter of fact, The American Cancer Society reports that three out of four cases of mesothelioma in the United States are attributed to men over 65. This is largely due to the fact that these men worked in industry in their 20s and 30s when the use of asbestos was rampant. In addition, it affects men four times more often than women and Whites and Hispanics more often than African or Asian Americans.
Regardless of who develops mesothelioma, the fact remains that the life expectancy of a person with mesothelioma is not good. Most cancer studies measure life expectancy in terms of the “five-year survival rate”; that is, how many individuals are still alive five years after diagnosis. The majority of reports put that number at about 10 percent. These people may be cancer free, show minimal signs of the disease, or still receiving treatment for mesothelioma. Though this number is up slightly over the last five years, it is still a true sign of a grim reality.
The one-year survival rate has also improved a bit during the last five years, thanks to medications like Alimta, which are adding months to the lives of mesothelioma patients. That number now stands at about 40 percent. Additional survival rates released around 2005 include a two-year survival rate of 22 percent, a three-year rate of 12 percent, and a four-year survival rate of approximately 11 percent.
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Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of mesothelioma patients pass away about 10 to 11 months after diagnosis. This is attributed to the fact that early detection tools are just arriving on the scene and most cases of the disease are still not diagnosed until they are in Stage three or four, making treatment difficult and options few.