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New Tool Measures Past Exposure to Asbestos

New Tool Measures Past Exposure to Asbestos

A new Italian study supports the most reliable tool for determining past exposure to asbestos. The study has confirmed what thousands of mesothelioma patients already know. Exposure to asbestos puts them at high risk for malignant mesothelioma.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been found throughout the world. It was once called the “magic mineral” because of its seemingly magical properties.

Because of its heat-resistant properties, it served as an insulator in factories, schools, homes, and ships. Thousands of workers have come in contact with the material daily, in some cases, for decades.

Asbestos is toxic and cancer-causing for human beings. It causes mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Generally, those who develop asbestos-related diseases show no signs of illness for a long time after their first exposure. It can take from 10 to 40 years or more for symptoms of an asbestos-related condition to appear.

Because of this long delay, measuring a patient’s past asbestos exposure can be difficult. And yet, this is important information. Clinicians need a way to estimate a patient’s past exposure to asbestos. This impacts their prognosis and treatment strategy.

The Reliability of a New Tool

A team from the University of Pavia is testing the reliability of a new tool. The tool is called a retrospective exposure assessment (REA). It uses a special microscope to assess exposure and asbestos content in lung tissue. The REA may provide an ‘educated guess’ of past exposure to asbestos.

“This study has been undertaken in order to assess the correlation between the retrospective assessment of occu­pational and environmental exposure to asbestos and its actual content in the lung tissue…” said Dr. Visonà, from the Unit of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences.

The REA is reliable. But the estimates are not perfect and need to be conducted by experts. The REA should also be sup­ported by a detailed patient history.

This is a big step forward in being able to measure a lifetime cumulative exposure to asbestos. It also provides a new method for getting reliable estimates of past exposure to asbestos.

The REA is regarded as the most reliable tool for determining past exposure to asbestos.


Visonà, S. D., E. Crespi, E. Belluso, S. Capella, S. De Matteis, F. Filippi, M. Lai et al. “Reconstructing historical exposure to asbestos: the validation of ‘educated guesses’.” Occupational Medicine (2022). https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqac084


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