A new report contains some disturbing news about just how little asbestos exposure it may take to cause malignant mesothelioma. Radiologists in New Delhi, India have published details of a case of mesothelioma in a young woman who experienced only very limited asbestos exposure as a child.
According to the article in the Journal of Clinical Imaging Science, the young woman was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma after complaining of chest pain and breathlessness. X-rays and CT scans revealed that, not only was she suffering from the asbestos cancer, but that it had also spread to her liver and lungs. A biopsy of one of the tumors confirmed the diagnosis.
In addition to being much younger than most mesothelioma patients, the woman’s case is unique in that her only known exposure to asbestos was from contact with the contaminated work clothes of her father 15 years earlier. Her father was a miner in the asbestos-rich Jharkhand area of eastern India. According to the report, the child only lived with her father for about three months.
“This report highlights that pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma can occur without direct asbestos exposure, as was seen in our young patient,” writes lead investigator, Dr. Bharati Singhal of the ESI Model Hospital in New Delhi. Dr. Singhal and his colleagues conclude that these kinds of short-term or second-hand exposures to mesothelioma-causing asbestos are probably underreported because neither patients nor investigators recognize their significance.
Mesothelioma is the most serious of a range of diseases, including lung cancer, linked with exposure to asbestos. Although most mesothelioma patients are diagnosed in their 60s or 70s – typically after many years of work-related exposure – the New Delhi case illustrates how dangerous asbestos can be, even in small quantities.
For this reason, more than 55 countries have banned asbestos mining, use, and importation. The US has not instituted such a ban, but has attempted to reduce mesothelioma risk among workers and the public through strict regulations on the handling of asbestos and asbestos-contaminated items.
Singhal, B et al, “Malignant pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma consequential to brief indirect asbestos exposure”, June 30, 2014, Journal of Clinical Imaging Science, eCollection