Researchers from Canada’s School of Public Health at the University of Montreal set themselves the difficult task of determining how many work-related cancer cases and deaths occurred in the country between the years of 1997 and 2005.
These figures can be difficult to determine, because not every case is identified by its cause, and many may have never been properly attributed. By comparing the figures for those who had been compensated by the Quebec Workers’ Compensation Board to the number of people diagnosed with work-related cancers in the United Kingdom and Finland, they were able to come up with approximate numbers, and some concerning statistics.
The researchers specifically selected the UK and Finland for comparison because those two countries possess industrial profiles that are similar to those of Canada. All three have a history of both producing and exporting asbestos in large quantities.
Asbestos exposure is the single known cause of mesothelioma, a rare and always fatal form of cancer that affects the lining of the cavities in which the lungs and abdominal organs are found. The disease has an extensive latency period and it can take decades before symptoms arise, and once diagnosed patients’ prognosis is generally about eighteen months.
The disease is always considered fatal, though recent advances in technology have allowed patients to survive for as long as several years after diagnosis.
Armed with statistics indicating that the country’s risk for a mesothelioma-related health crisis is extremely high, the researchers are suggesting that Canada should make mesothelioma research a priority.
They say that the number of diagnosed asbestos-related diseases in Canada is on the rise. Statistics show that workers who received compensation for work-related illnesses in Quebec and who later died of their illnesses, between 60 and 64% had been diagnosed with mesothelioma. The majority of the remaining victims were diagnosed with a variety of respiratory cancers.
According to lead investigator France Labreche, PhD and professor of Environmental and Occupational Health, “It was estimated that six percent 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.”
The report also pointed out that because mesothelioma is such a rare cancer in the medical world, research is generally not as well-funded as other cancers.