Mesothelioma: Facts & Figures

Incidence of mesothelioma:

Mesothelioma in Minnesota

Mesothelioma is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. The Northeastern region of the state has historically had industries that exposed workers to asbestos-containing materials (such as ship building in Duluth, ceiling tile manufacturing in Cloquet, and mining throughout the region). Therefore, mesothelioma has a distinctive geographical distribution in Minnesota. Incidence rates in Northeastern Minnesota are double the rates in other regions of the state for males, but not for females. 

Outside of Northeastern Minnesota, specific instances of exposure have been documented in Northeast Minneapolis, subsequent to the processing of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, which is used in housing materials (i.e., insulation). From 2011 to 2013, an average of 56 cases of mesothelioma in males and 20 cases of mesothelioma in females were diagnosed in Minnesota residents each year.

Mesothelioma cases in Minnesota

Age-adjusted rate of new mesothelioma cases.
Age-adjusted rate of new mesothelioma cases.

The above figure shows the age-adjusted incidence rate of mesothelioma in Minnesota by year and sex. The rate of mesothelioma is four times higher among males than females. The rate of mesothelioma among males increased significantly from 1988 until 1999 and has gradually declined since then, while the rate among females has been stable. Most recently, the age-adjusted incidence rate of mesothelioma was 2.2 new cases per 100,000 males and 0.6 new cases per 100,000 females.


Mesothelioma cases in Minnesota, by age

Rate of new mesothelioma cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.
Rate of new mesothelioma cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.

The above figure shows the age-specific incidence rate of mesothelioma by age group and sex. The rate of mesothelioma is four times higher among males than females and increases with age. The rate of mesothelioma is highest among males aged 75 years and older.


Mesothelioma cases in Minnesota, by region

Age-adjusted rates of new mesothelioma cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.
Age-adjusted rates of new mesothelioma cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.

The above figure shows the age-adjusted incidence rate of mesothelioma by region of Minnesota and sex. Among women, rates are similar across the state. Among males, rates of mesothelioma are significantly higher in Northeastern Minnesota, where there have been a variety of past occupational exposures to airborne asbestos compounds. Over the last 10 years, the age-adjusted incidence rate of mesothelioma was 4.6 new cases per 100,000 males in Northeastern Minnesota.


What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a cancer in which cells of the mesothelium, a protective sac covering most of the body's internal organs (including the lining of the chest, abdomen, and the space around the heart) become abnormal and grow without control. There are three types of mesothelioma:

  • Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form and occurs in the lining of the lung known as the pleura.
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the abdominal cavity, known as the peritoneum.
  • Pericardial mesothelioma originates in the pericardium, which lines the heart.

What are the risk factors of mesothelioma?

  • Exposure to airborne asbestos: Exposure to asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral, is the primary risk factor. Asbestos was widely used in commercial products prior to the 1970s. Because the time period from exposure to diagnosis is long (often 30 to 50 years), mesothelioma is rare in a person under age 45. Exposure to asbestos also greatly increases the risk of lung cancer, especially among smokers.
  • Gender: Males are more likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma because occupations or industries that historically used asbestos were predominately held by males (e.g., ship building, pipe fitting, mining, insulation, brake repair, and cement work).

How can mesothelioma be prevented?

Prevention is primarily achieved by preventing exposure to airborne asbestos. A person can take precautions not to disturb asbestos-containing products (e.g., insulation, tiles) that may be in the home environment. Additionally, use of asbestos in manufacturing has been greatly reduced, but not eliminated. Ambient levels of asbestos in the air were mostly introduced from asbestos-containing brake shoes or brake pads (part of automobile braking systems) and have been dramatically reduced with the introduction of brake shoes and pads that do not contain asbestos.

Related resources:

Mesothelioma-MDH Center for Occupational Health and Safety