Even four decades after asbestos exposure, the risk of mesothelioma continues to go up
Anyone with any experience in the discovery and removal of asbestos will be aware of the lethal cancer of the lung lining, mesothelioma, which is strongly associated with exposure to the now-banned fibres and is almost always fatal. Nor are people in the UK ceasing to die from the disease, long after the era when asbestos was widely used, as shown by Health and Safety Executive statistics from 2014 showing 2,515 deaths.
Now, a new study has been published in the journal Lung Cancer that shows even those who have not come into contact with asbestos for 40 years are still seeing their risk for the condition rise. Such individuals are almost three times more likely to develop the disease than those for whom exposure occurred just five years ago. Their risk is also higher than their counterparts exposed to the substance 30 years ago.
Mesothelioma is notorious for developing late
It is no secret that mesothelioma tends to have a long latency period, which means that those who come into contact with asbestos may not show their first symptoms of the disease for many decades afterwards. This may help to explain why there has been little sign of asbestos-induced diseases decreasing in prevalence in most European countries, despite the European Union (EU) having banned all types of asbestos.
Researchers at the Poland-based Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine set out to analyse the relationship between when workers were last exposed to asbestos and their subsequent risk of developing mesothelioma, in a population of participants who had been exposed to the substance at some point in time.
They found that workers exposed 40 years ago were 2.68 times more likely to develop mesothelioma than those who had encountered asbestos 35 years later. Of the different types of asbestos, crocidolite – often known as blue asbestos – was associated with a significantly higher mesothelioma risk.
The chances of developing the disease were also greater for those who had been exposed to asbestos for a longer time period, with those who had been in contact with it for four decades being 2.79 times more likely to develop the condition than those exposed to it for only one year. This was the case even when adjustments were made for such factors as birth year, gender, the amount of exposure and the time that had passed since they were last exposed.
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