A cancer research center in Canada recently analyzed more than 4,000 reported mesothelioma cases across 25 years (1993-2017).
The surprising results showed a decrease in the rate of cases stemming from occupational asbestos exposure. There was an uptick in the percentage of non-occupational cases.
Maybe the data isn’t so surprising after all.
The report, from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre at Ontario Health, isn’t limited in relevance to just Canada’s mesothelioma cases. The shift from occupational exposure to non-occupational vulnerability applies in the United States — and throughout most first-world countries that have discontinued most occupational uses of asbestos.
Industries breaking away from their reliance on asbestos — largely due to fears of legal issues — was the first domino. Decades later, the result should be less on-the-job exposure and fewer cases from this method. But since the annual case count hasn’t decreased — around 3,000 in the United States — the difference is made up from non-occupational exposure.
The report’s data shows a few noteworthy trends regarding mesothelioma, both now and into the future. The biggest question it may answer: Who is most at risk of this rare and fatal cancer?
Trend #1: Women Face a Greater Risk Than Before
Paul Demers, the director of Ontario Health’s cancer research center, said women are increasing as victims of this disease. Mesothelioma traditionally affects men most of all — males account for 75-80% of cases — but the shift from occupational exposure may change those percentages.
“That’s a pattern that we saw very clearly here and in some other provinces,” Demers said, “but it’s also been seen internationally.”
Asbestos was commonplace in a few specific jobs, mostly done by men: construction and insulation work, electrical work, automobile maintenance, plumbing and pipefitting, and military service.
The phasing out of asbestos in commercial and industrial practices has reduced exposure in these trades. That has kept men safer from exposure.
However, there’s a heightened awareness of asbestos in talc products, such as cosmetics and cleaning powders. Women usually purchase and use these commodities, which results in more exposure for this demographic.
Trend #2: New Settings of Exposure
Exposure at home due to talc products is just one setting or method people must recognize. While occupational exposure is diminishing in importance, it’s not going extinct just yet.
The jobs and tasks may just change a bit.
The Ontario Health report labeled do-it-yourself home renovators as one of the newest at-risk groups. Older homes may present dangers for any maintenance work that unveils damaged asbestos.
There are professions dedicated to removing asbestos and other hazardous materials from buildings. Those occupations — asbestos remediation and disposal work — are some of the emerging methods.
Trend #3: More Cases From Low Levels of Exposure
The shift from occupational asbestos exposure to non-occupational exposure means a lower quantity of exposure. The repeated, daily interaction with asbestos is giving room for one-off or sporadic occurrences.
The danger still exists.
“The really high asbestos exposures that people got in workplaces are becoming less common,” Demers said. “But lower exposures from asbestos that’s in buildings where people are living in — that’s gradually escaping into the environment — will become more important over time.”
Even if you haven’t worked a job involving asbestos, you may have been exposed in another way. Speak with our staff if you have mesothelioma and don’t know the root cause of your cancer. You can email our patient advocate and registered nurse, Karen Ritter, at firstname.lastname@example.org for answers.
Sources & Author
- What new Ontario-led research says about mesothelioma. TVO 50. Retrieved from: https://www.tvo.org/article/what-new-ontario-led-research-says-about-mesothelioma. Accessed: 10/27/2020.
Sources & Author