Two Italian researchers say mesothelioma has reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the world and does not appear to be slowing down any time soon.
In a new report in the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Claudio and Tommaso Bianchi of the Center for the Study of Environmental Cancer in Monfalcone, Italy analyzed data from cancer registries around the world. They supplemented their raw data with information they got from mesothelioma researchers in other countries.
What they found was a disturbing upward trend in mesothelioma incidence in several European countries, as well as in Australia and New Zealand. According to the Bianchis, the UK, The Netherlands, Malta and Belgium reported the highest number of mesothelioma cases in Europe. The one positive note in the report was that mesothelioma incidence rates in Japan and Central Europe tended to be relatively low. Unfortunately, in many countries, no mesothelioma data was even available.
Mesothelioma is the deadliest of the diseases linked to asbestos exposure. Unlike other types of foreign substances, the tiny, sharp asbestos fibers tend to stay in the body after they are accidently inhaled or ingested. These embedded fibers work their way deep into the tissue, causing chronic irritation and inflammation that may trigger mesothelioma even decades later.
Not surprisingly, the countries with the highest rates of mesothelioma are countries where asbestos was used heavily, usually in the building industry. Asbestos was once prized as a building product additive for its strength and resistance to fire, heat and corrosion. Many of the homes built in the UK after World War II were built of cement fortified with toxic asbestos, putting both the 40s-era builders, and contemporary remodelers at risk for mesothelioma. Australia, once one of the world’s biggest exporters of asbestos and home to large asbestos mines, now rivals the UK for the highest per capita mesothelioma rate.
The Bianchis say their data suggest that, not only is mesothelioma not declining in much of the world, but many countries may still be ignoring the risks. “[The] mesothelioma epidemic does not show signs of attenuation,” they conclude. “The lack of data for a large majority of the world does not allow that the consciousness of the risks related to asbestos exposure is reached.”
Although mesothelioma rates are slowly declining in the US due to asbestos regulation, close to 2,500 Americans are still diagnosed with the incurable cancer each year.
Bianchi, C and Bianchi, T, “Global mesothelioma epidemic: Trend and features”, Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine”, December 12, 2014, pp. 82-88.