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Study Suggests Asbestos Bans May Take Decades to Lower Mesothelioma Rates

19153435_ItalyItaly’s 1992 asbestos ban is expected to cause a significant decrease in the number of mesothelioma cases in the country – but not for at least another decade. Researchers in the Occupational Health Unit of the Local health Authority of Padua reached that conclusion after studying 1,600 Italian pleural mesothelioma cases over a 23 year period.

The goal of the new study was to compare one region’s incidence of mesothelioma with known asbestos exposures in the area and see how lack of exposure affects the rates over time. The study focused only on confirmed cases of malignant pleural mesothelioma that occurred in the Veneto Region of Italy between 1987 and 2010.

Unfortunately, the researchers observed a steady increase in the number of mesothelioma cases during that period. The study subjects at greatest risk for the disease were those born between 1940 and 1945. This is because mesothelioma has one of the longest latency periods of any cancer, taking between 10 and 50 years to cause symptoms. As a result, many people exposed to asbestos as early as 1940 would have just been starting to develop symptoms around 1987.

Fortunately, the findings also indicated that the incidence of mesothelioma in this historically asbestos-rich area have probably already peaked. “Future projections indicate that the trend will decrease after the incidence peak of 2010,” writes primary author Paolo Girardi in a report in Cancer Epidemiology.

Even so, an estimated 1,234 Italian men are still expected to develop mesothelioma between 2011 and 2026. Among women, the rate is expected to remain stable or slowly decline. The research team concludes that, more than 20 years after asbestos was banned in Italy, the mesothelioma-reducing effects are not yet observable.

Although 55 countries of the European Union have enacted bans on asbestos because of its link to mesothelioma, the US has failed to do so. Nonetheless, incidence of mesothelioma in the U.S. is slowly declining because of strict regulations on the use and handling of asbestos. The new Italian study suggests that, if a ban is instituted in the U.S., its full effects will likely not be seen for at least 2 decades.


Paolo, G et al, “Past trends and future prediction of mesothelioma incidence in an industrialized area of Italy, the Veneto Region”, September 5, 2014, Cancer Epidemiology, Epub head of print

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