Background: Asbestos-related malignant pleural mesothelioma is one of the most lethal tumor types. The advent of antimetabolite treatment as pemetrexed, introduced in the early 2000s, may have increased survival on a population basis. In this study, we have analyzed population-based incidence and survival data over the last 40 years.
Methods: Complete national data on 1686 patients from the Cancer Registry of Norway sampled from 1970 to 2009 are presented, with incidence rates in 5-year periods. Relative survival for 1 year and 3 years and median survival in 5-year intervals were calculated.
Results: The incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma has been significantly and steadily increasing from 1970 until 2009, with 50 patients diagnosed in the period 1970-1974 and 377 diagnosed in 2005-2009. The incidence was highest among men in all time periods. A slight decline was observed in the last period. The 1-year survival rate increased from 20.7% to 44.0% during the period 1970-2009, whereas the 3-year survival rate remained below 10%. Median survival increased from 4.0 months in the first period to 9.3 months in the last period.
Conclusions: The incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma follows the curve of asbestos exposure with a 20- to 40-year lag. There has been a significant increase in survival, most likely because of earlier diagnosis and improvements in cytostatic treatment.