Find out about who gets mesothelioma, where it starts and how common it is.
What mesothelioma is
Mesothelioma is a cancer that most commonly starts in the layers of tissue that cover each lung (the pleura). More rarely it starts in the layer of tissue in the abdomen that surrounds the digestive system organs (the peritoneum).
How common mesothelioma is
In the UK around 2,700 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. It is quite a rare cancer, but it is becoming more common.
Mesothelioma in the chest (pleural mesothelioma) is much more common than mesothelioma in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Who gets mesothelioma
About 5 times more men than women get mesothelioma. This is probably because it is often caused by exposure to asbestos at work.
In the UK, on average each year half (50%) of cases were diagnosed in people aged 75 and over.
Where mesothelioma starts
Mesothelioma starts in the types of cells that cover the outer surface of most of our internal body organs (mesothelial cells). These cells form a lining called the mesothelium.
About three quarters (75%) of mesotheliomas are in the chest. This is called pleural mesothelioma.
About a quarter (25%) of mesotheliomas are in the tummy (abdomen). This is called peritoneal mesothelioma.
The lungs and pleura
Pleural mesothelioma starts in the two sheets of tissue that cover your lungs (called pleura or pleural membranes). The gap between the pleura is called the pleural space.
These sheets help to protect your lungs. They also make a fluid that helps them slide over each other when your lungs expand and deflate as you breathe. The gap between these sheets is called the pleural space.