Mesothelioma epidemiology and prognosis

In brief

  • Mesothelioma is a cancer of the tissue that lines internal organs, such as the lungs, that is caused by exposure to asbestos.
  • 5-year survival is extremely poor, treatment options are limited, and the annual number of newly diagnosed cases in Canada has been steadily increasing for many decades.
  • We examined the changing patterns of incidence over time, in BC and Ontario (in partnership with colleagues from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre in Ontario), and the demographic, geographic, and clinical determinants of survival.
  • There is a continuing need to monitor mesothelioma trends to better understand changes related to latency and levels and sources of of exposure. Case numbers are unlikely to decrease soon and may even increase as the population ages and grows.

Key findings

  • The number of cases of mesothelioma in BC has risen annually from ~35 cases diagnosed in 1993 to nearly 100 cases diagnosed in 2017. The majority of cases were male (85%) and over the age of 60 when diagnosed (83%).
  • Incidence rates in men are much higher than in women, reflecting their much higher levels of occupational asbestos exposure in the past.
  • Considerable geographic variability in incidence rates was observed, which is typical of occupational or environmental diseases, and is related to historic asbestos use in some industries.
  • Median survival has improved little over the past 25 years and in 2012-2016 was 8 months.
  • Research briefs based on the final report to WorkSafeBC are available for BC and Ontario (see below).

Learn more about our past work on mesothelioma awareness and compensation.

Related publications

Do patterns of past asbestos use and production reflect current geographic variations of cancer risk? Mesothelioma in Ontario and British Columbia, Canada

Journal article
Slavik C, Demers PA, Tamburic L, McLeod CB.
Cancer Causes Control. 2023 Feb 2. doi: 10.1007/s10552-023-01672-4. Online ahead of print.

Mesothelioma Surveillance and Prognosis in BC

Research brief
Based on: Demers P, McLeod C. Mesothelioma Epidemiology and Prognosis. Final Report to WorkSafeBC. Vancouver, BC: Partnership for Work, Health and Safety; July 2020.
Read the results of the Ontario portion of this study: Mesothelioma: Epidemiology and prognosis

The Burden of Asbestos-Related Disease in British Columbia: Final Workshop Report

Report [PDF: 206 KB]
WorkSafeBC-CHSPR Research Partnership. Vancouver, BC: Centre for Health Services and Policy Research; 2011.

Surveillance of mesothelioma and workers’ compensation in British Columbia, Canada

Journal article
Kirkham TL, Koehoorn MW, McLeod CB, Demers PA. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2011 Jan;68(1):30-5.
Research summary [472 KB]

Contact: Chris McLeod

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