Quebec was once Canada’s heaviest producer and exporter of asbestos, the number one worldwide cause of deadly malignant pleural mesothelioma. In recent years, the number of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer and pleural plaques have been steadily rising and some Canadian health experts warn that the country is poised for a health crisis because of its close ties with the asbestos industry.
But exact numbers of work-related cancer cases are not easy to find. Researchers from the Canada School of Public Health at the University of Montreal attempted to estimate the number of work-related cancer cases and deaths between 1997 and 2005 by looking at the number of compensated cancers (from the Quebec Workers’ Compensation Board) and by comparing Quebec’s cancer figures to those of Finland and the UK, countries with similar industrial profiles.
According to a new report published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, about 94 cancer patients were compensated every year for work-related illnesses in Quebec. Within this group, of the 40 workers who died of their illnesses, between 60 and 64% had mesothelioma. Respiratory cancers were the second most common cause of cancer death among patients who received compensation. They accounted for between 30 and 37% of cancer deaths.
“It was estimated that 6% of incident cancers and 7.6% of cancer deaths could be attributable to work, resulting annually in 2,200 new cancers and 1,200 deaths” writes lead investigator France Labreche, PhD, a professor of Environmental and Occupational Health.
Although mesothelioma accounted for the largest number of worked-related cancer deaths in Quebec, the authors found that only about 53% of patients with mesothelioma received compensation. They say they hope their research will help “prioritize research activities and increase stakeholders’ awareness” of mesothelioma and other industrial diseases. Because mesothelioma is such a rare cancer from a population standpoint, it tends to lag far behind other cancers in research funding.
Labreche, F et al, “Estimating the proportion of occupational cancers with minimal resources: an example from Quebec”, June 2014, Occupational and Environmental Medicine