Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer Rates Rise Worldwide

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A new report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization, states that lung cancer together with related thoracic cancers including malignant pleural mesothelioma are on the rise worldwide.

According to the IARC, 1.61 million cases of lung cancer and mesothelioma were diagnosed worldwide in 2008.  Lung and asbestos cancers also accounted for more deaths than any other types of cancer, claiming the lives of 1.38 million people. Taken together, lung cancer and mesothelioma comprised 18.2 percent of all cancer deaths in 2008.

Although mesothelioma is a relatively rare cancer, affecting an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Americans annually, it is especially aggressive.  Pleural mesothelioma (affecting the lining around the lungs) and peritoneal mesothelioma (affecting the lining of the abdomen) are the most common types.   All types of mesothelioma are caused by asbestos.

Industries in which asbestos use was once common, including the shipping industry and various construction trades, account for the majority of cases of mesothelioma, which can occur years after the person is exposed to asbestos.  Mesothelioma rates on the rise in many poorer nations where lax asbestos regulations and continued asbestos imports (most notably from Canada) continue to put workers at risk.

Mesothelioma is not the only type of cancer that has been linked to asbestos exposure.  Inhalation of asbestos has also been implicated in both small cell and non-small cell lung cancers.   In 2009, another IARC study published in the British Medical Journal, The Lancet Oncology, linked asbestos to some throat and ovarian cancers.  According to the National Cancer Institute, asbestos can also increase the risk for kidney, esophageal and gallbladder cancers.

The IARC study estimates that 13.2 million people worldwide will die of cancer annually by the year 2030.  Because asbestos-linked cancers can take 20 to 50 years to develop, mesothelioma and other asbestos related cancers are expected to comprise an increasingly larger percentage of cancer deaths for the next 25 years.

Sources:

Landau, Elizabeth. “WHO predicts 21 million annual cancer cases by 2030”, June 2, 2010, CNN. 
Drummond, Katie. “5 Key Warnings in the WHO’s New Cancer Report”, June 1, 2010. Politics Daily. 
Straif, Kurt et all. “A review of human carcinogens-Part C: metals, arsenic, dusts, and fibres”, May 15 2009, The Lancet Oncology, Volume 10, Issue 5, pp. 453-454.

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