Avoid exposure to asbestos – especially if you are a smoker. That is the central message in an article by two Dutch cancer researchers who have some good news and some bad news about the link between asbestos exposure and malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Pulmonologists Dr. Paul Baas and Dr. JA Burgers of AVL/NKI Cancer Center in Amsterdam analyzed a study of 58,279 Dutch construction workers from 1986 to 2007. The study, published by Offermans et al in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, confirmed what past research has found – that the risk of lung cancer, laryngeal cancer, and mesothelioma increased as asbestos exposure increased.
“The risk of development of lung cancer was higher for anyone with increased years of exposure to asbestos fibre combined with a smoking habit,” write Baas and Burgers in a Dutch medical journal. This is potentially bad news for the thousands of workers around the world who have worked with or around asbestos without adequate protection.
The good news, say the researchers, is that the study also suggests that the risk of mesothelioma to the general public is lower – though not non-existent – from brief asbestos exposure, such as the exposure a person might encounter walking by a dusty construction site. However, the risk of developing mesothelioma from even short-term asbestos exposure is still higher among people who smoke than it is among non-smokers.
But the Dutch doctors also say that laws regarding safe handling and removal of asbestos are still critical for protecting the general public and workers since even a small amount can be dangerous. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has established handling and disposal guidelines for workers who have to remove asbestos-containing materials from older homes and businesses.
Although the same guidelines also apply to do-it-yourself homeowners, the EPA says most homeowners should not handle asbestos by themselves. Instead, they recommend that homeowners who need to remove asbestos as part of a renovation or remodeling project call a certified asbestos abatement professional in order to minimize the risk of developing mesothelioma years later.
Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a highly aggressive cancer with no known cure. Asbestos and a similar fibrous mineral called erionite are the primary causes of mesothelioma.
Source: Baas, P and Burgers, JA, “Is one single exposure to asbestos life-threating?”, March 4, 2014, Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde