There’s more evidence that exposure to asbestos early in life increases the risk of mesothelioma and a host of other cancers.
A team of Australian researchers have released the results of a study of more than 2,400 adults who lived in an asbestos mining town during their childhoods (under the age of 15). The study participants all lived in a town where crocidolite, also known as blue asbestos, was present. Crocidolite is the most common type of asbestos found in Australia.
Among the 2,460 people evaluated, there were 217 (93 female) incident cancers and 218 (70 female) deaths. Compared to other Australians women, the women who had lived around asbestos as children were more likely to have mesothelioma, ovarian, and brain cancers. They were also more likely to have died of any cause or any cancer than women in the general population.
Among the men who had a childhood history of asbestos exposure, rates of mesothelioma, leukemia,, prostate, brain and colorectal cancers were all elevated, as was the risk of death from all causes – including heart disease, diseases of the nervous system and accidents. Their risk of dying of any kind of cancer was also elevated.
The conclusion reached by the Australian team comes as no surprise to those familiar with the dangers of asbestos: “Exposure to blue asbestos in childhood is associated with an increased risk of cancer and mortality in adults,” they write in a recent issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
Similar research is ongoing in the U.S. on people who grew up in Libby, Montana. Libby is the home of the asbestos-contaminated W.R. Grace vermiculite mine and many residents have died from mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases. Researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center are gathering data from 13,000 people who graduated from high school in Libby between 1950 and 1999 to study the impact of asbestos on developing bodies. The research is sponsored by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, (ATSDR) which is also funding a follow-up study on 600 children who participated in a 2000-2001 lung function study in Libby and were too young to receive X-rays at the time.
Mesothelioma is the most deadly form of cancer caused by asbestos, affecting an estimated 2,500 American annually. The biological mechanisms by which asbestos triggers mesothelioma is fairly well understood.