Although reported incidence rates have increased in the past 20 years, malignant mesothelioma is still a relatively rare cancer. Between 1973 and 1984, there has been a threefold increase in the diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma in Caucasian males. From 1980 to the late 1990s, the death rate from malignant mesothelioma in the USA increased from 2,000 per year to 3,000, with men four times more likely to acquire it than women. The actual rates may be even higher however, since it is possible that many cases of malignant mesothelioma are misdiagnosed as adenocarcinoma of the lung, which is difficult to differentiate from mesothelioma.
The average age of diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma is 60. The average survival time varies from 4 to 18 months, and death is usually due to infection or respiratory failure from the progression of the mesothelioma