From the blog

Mesothelioma Rates Increased Over a 30 Year Period

Published: December 9, 2022

Mesothelioma diagnoses have almost doubled in the last 30 years, highlighting the need for better care and more ways to regulate and reduce asbestos exposure. There were around 35,000 people diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2019, while in 1990 there were around 19,000 people diagnosed. This information was released by the Clinical Research Center at Shandong University in Jinan, China. The study was published in Critical Reviews in Oncology/Hematology. It is the most comprehensive evaluation of diagnosis rates and mortality rates of mesothelioma globally. Mesothelioma is a difficult cancer to treat and does not have a cure. It is mostly caused by exposure to asbestos, a mineral that was used for its heat and fire-resistant properties. The typical survival is usually around nine to 12 months.

The study was meant to bring awareness to the cancer and to help push policy decisions forward. It also shows governments that they need to allocate resources to prevent mesothelioma around the world by reducing asbestos usage. Mesothelioma diagnoses and death rates almost doubled in the study period, but the cases, deaths, and disability-adjusted life years all trended downward. This means that banning asbestos would only be a small step in the fight against mesothelioma. Asbestos is tightly regulated in 20 countries and the sale, mining, import, and use of the substance is banned in 62 countries. It can take a long time for asbestos to cause cancer. Anywhere from 20 to 60 years could go by without someone being diagnosed after asbestos exposure and then suddenly, symptoms could arise. Reducing exposure to asbestos could stop future mesothelioma diagnoses.

There are three challenges that governments need to address. The first is legacy asbestos. Governments need to remove asbestos from existing buildings that were constructed before asbestos bans. Governments also must find better ways to dispose of asbestos, which could help reduce the impact of man-made asbestos products on the environment. Governments also need to deal with asbestos contaminated soil by finding ways to remove and dispose of soil properly.

Many countries have banned asbestos. Some countries including Denmark, Norway, Israel, and Sweden started to ban asbestos in 1980, but many countries have not banned the substance because of corporate and legal pressures. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tried to ban asbestos in 1989, but a lawsuit brought by manufacturers of asbestos products reversed it. India, Thailand, and Mexico also tried to ban asbestos, but ultimately failed.

The study started at a time when asbestos consumption was reduced by 75 percent from its peak use. Despite the reduction, high rates of mesothelioma were found in high income regions. North America had an increase of 3,073 cases in 1990 to 4,487 cases in 2019. The Asian-Pacific region had a larger increase from 796 to 2,102 cases, Western Europe had an increase from 7,732 to 12,080 cases, and Central Asia increased from 150 to 211 cases. The countries with the highest age standardized mortality rates were the United Kingdom, Australia, Netherlands, European principality of Andorra, and Lesotho.

There were around 30,870 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in 2020 and 26,278 new deaths from the disease. In the 30 years of the study, there were fewer cases in people under the age of 70 and more patients were diagnosed who were older than 80.

Yali Han et al., “Global magnitude and temporal trend of mesothelioma burden along with the contribution of occupational asbestos exposure in 204 countries and territories from 1990 to 2019: Results from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019” ScienceDirect (November 2022). [Link]
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