If you experienced asbestos exposure more than 30 years ago and you have not developed mesothelioma, your risk for the disease may be starting to decline.
A new Italian study is the latest to suggest that mesothelioma risk may taper off over time.
A group of occupational health experts conducted the study. Their goal was to predict mesothelioma trends in Italy until 2040.
The data shows that mesothelioma cases will probably peak this year. But they also show that most of those cases will happen in people with asbestos exposure in the last three decades.
Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma Incidence
Asbestos is the main cause of malignant mesothelioma. A small number of mesothelioma cases happen without any known asbestos exposure. But even in these cases, it often turns out that the patient was exposed without knowing it.
When asbestos fibers get inside the body, they can wreak havoc. These fibers work their way deep into the tissues and the body cannot get rid of them. They cause inflammation and irritation. In people with certain genetic factors, they may even cause mesothelioma.
This process usually takes at least 20 years. Some people contract mesothelioma after just a few years. Others do not develop it until 50 or 60 years after asbestos exposure. But the Italian study suggests these cases are the exception to the rule.
When Does the Risk Go Away?
Unfortunately, the risk for mesothelioma after asbestos exposure never disappears. But the new study suggests that, after 30 years, exposed people who are still healthy may start to breathe a little easier.
Researchers at the University of Pavia led the new study. They analyzed data on pleural mesothelioma in Italian men between 1970 and 2014. Their data show Italy will probably have its highest number of mesothelioma cases this year (1122 expected).
“The lag-specific relative risk grew until 30 years since exposure and decreased thereafter, suggesting that the most relevant contributions to the risk come from exposures which occurred 20-40 years before death,” writes lead author Enrico Oddone.
Italy banned asbestos in 1992. Before that, the country was one of Europe’s top producers and users of asbestos. A high percentage of the population experienced asbestos exposure.
The good news is that the legacy of asbestos exposure in Italy is finally turning around. The model predicts that the number of mesothelioma cases will drop to just 344 by 2039.
About 2,500 American receive a mesothelioma diagnosis every year. Asbestos is not banned in the US.
Oddone, E, et al, “Effect of Asbestos Consumption on Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma in Italy: Forecasts of Mortality up to 2040”, July 3, 2021, Cancers, https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6694/13/13/3338
Marcilli, D, et al, “Asbestos Ban in Italy: A Major Milestone, Not the Final Cut”, November 13, 2017, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/14/11/1379