Patients with malignant mesothelioma and their families are not the only ones impacted by the costs associated with the asbestos-linked cancer. There is also a societal economic burden that can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
That is the conclusion of a new report published by Canadian occupational medicine and public health experts in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
A History of Mesothelioma in Canada
The objective of the study was to estimate the economic burden of lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma – the most devastating of the illnesses linked to asbestos exposure.
Beginning as early as the 1930s and 1940s, thousands of Canadian workers, like other workers around the world, were exposed to asbestos at work, often without any protection.
Before asbestos was linked to pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma and lung cancer, the mineral was prized for its tensile strength, heat and corrosion resistance, and insulating properties.
But after shipyard workers and other tradesmen and women who worked with asbestos began to develop unexplained coughs, chest pain, and fatigue, scientists identified a new kind of cancer that grew on the mesothelium, a membrane that surrounds internal organs. They called it malignant mesothelioma.
Estimating the Societal Costs of Asbestos Cancer
To estimate the economic burden of mesothelioma and lung cancer, the team first identified cases resulting from either occupational or para-occupational (related to the workplace but not necessarily a direct result of the work itself) asbestos exposure.
Taking into consideration healthcare expenses, productivity and output costs, and quality of life costs, they calculated the substantial lifetime cost of the 427 newly diagnosed mesothelioma cases and the 1,904 newly diagnosed lung cancer cases in Canada in 2011.
“Our estimate of the economic burden is $C831 million in direct and indirect costs for newly identified cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer and $C1.5 billion in quality of life costs based on a value of $C100 000 per quality-adjusted life year,” writes lead author Emile Tompa of the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto. “This amounts to $C356 429 and $C652 369 per case, respectively.”
Influencing Asbestos Policy
The research team says this information can be especially valuable for policy makers in other countries as they consider banning the mining and use or asbestos products and the merits versus risks of removing asbestos from older buildings.
Although more than 50 countries have banned asbestos because of its toxicity, many other countries, including the US, have not instituted bans. An estimated 2,500 Americans are diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma each year.
Tompa, E, et al, “The economic burden of lung cancer and mesothelioma due to occupational and para-occupational asbestos exposure”, July 29, 2017, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Epub ahead of print