It has long been known that exposure to asbestos puts an individual at risk for mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly form of cancer that has no known cure and which generally strikes its victims several decades after they have worked with the carcinogenic material.
Even though a great deal has been learned about the mechanisms of the disease over the last forty years, there is still much to be learned. A recent study compared the work history of people diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma and the amount of time and timing of their exposure to asbestos at work.
The study was published in the journal BMJ Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The study looked at medical records of approximately 1,200 men who were diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma over a 20-year period and compared them to those of almost 2,400 others who were matched to them for age. The researchers learned several things from their investigation.
“We found that an increase in asbestos exposure during more than forty years before diagnosis, or at 15 to 20 years old, had the strongest impact on the risk of pleural mesothelioma. As a result, subjects who accumulated asbestos fibers in early career were at higher risk than those who accumulated them at the end of their career or at a constant level over the entire career,” the study wrote.
Additionally, they determined that asbestos exposure that occurred within ten years of the diagnosis was less likely to have had an impact on the onset of the disease, though it may have an impact on how it develops or on the degree of its severity.
“Our study should encourage epidemiologists to consider such modeling of asbestos exposure in studies on pleural mesothelioma, as well as in other contexts. Our results may also help deciders in planning epidemiological surveillance programs of workers occupationally exposed to asbestos.”
There is a long list of occupations that present the risk of early exposure to asbestos. These can include those working in construction, as auto mechanics, in shipyards or power plants, in metal works or chemical plants, in oil refineries and others.
This type of exposure occurred frequently to those who worked in the American military during the years surrounding World War II, providing a clear explanation for why so many veterans have been diagnosed with the disease.