Epidemiology is the study of human health, or the lack thereof, in populations more so than individuals. Epidemiology looks at the causes (etiology), incidence (prevalence), distribution and other patterns of disease and places those factors within the context of the broader population. The most significant epidemiologic factor determining the likelihood that an individual will be diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma is asbestos exposure.
Of the between 2,000 and 3,000 Americans who are diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma every year, between 70% and 80% present with a history of occupational asbestos exposure – either their own occupational exposure or that of a close family member or friend who may have brought the deadly, fiber-laden asbestos dust home on skin or hair or clothing. The regulation of occupational asbestos exposure did not begin until the mid-1970s; consequently, many people who worked around the deadly mineral some time ago are only first being diagnosed today.
Mesothelioma Diagnosis in Men
Traditionally, men were more likely to have worked as construction workers, auto parts production workers, electrical workers, pipefitters or any of the other occupations at high risk for asbestos exposure. Therefore, men are generally more likely to contract mesothelioma than women. During the period between 1999 and 2005, 14,591 men and 3,477 women died of malignant mesothelioma according to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control.
Although men are at higher risk for developing mesothelioma in general, women are at higher risk for developing peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma. Medical experts speculate that this may be due to difficulty in differentiating peritoneal mesothelioma from ovarian cancer.
Between 1999 and 2005, 17,180 Caucasian Americans, 707 African Americans and 181 members of other races died of malignant mesothelioma. Medical experts are still searching for an answer as to why mesothelioma incidence remains higher among caucasians.
Mesothelioma most commonly manifests in the pleura – the delicate membranes containing the lungs. About 67% to 75% of all mesothelioma victims are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma; 25% to 33% with peritoneal mesothelioma; and fewer than 10% with pericardial mesothelioma. When mesothelioma is linked to asbestos exposure, the primary exposure site is the lung as individuals will have inhaled dust containing particulate asbestos fibers. Medical experts are still not certain why or how mesothelioma spreads to other sites within the body. Patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma tend to have the best prognosis and the longest survival rates.