Malignant mesothelioma is a lethal disease. It is rare in the general population; however, workers exposed to asbestos suffer significant burdens of the neoplasm. The survival time of 457 consecutive fatal cases of pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma that occurred among 17,800 asbestos insulation workers observed prospectively from 1 January 1967 to 1 January 1987 was studied. Mean survival time from initial presentation of the disease to death was 11.4 months for the pleural mesothelioma patients compared with 7.4 months for the peritoneal group. This difference was statistically significant. Mean survival time from diagnosis to death was shorter for both groups of patients: 8.4 months for pleural mesothelioma v 5.8 months for the peritoneal cases. In conclusion, survival time in mesothelioma patients is short; most die within a year from the onset of the initial symptoms. No effective therapy is yet available.