Mesothelioma has long been a well-known, but often times overlooked, disease that affects thousands of people in the U.S. every year. Caused by the building material asbestos, cases of mesothelioma were thought to be on the decline, but a new study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) put out earlier this year contradicts that sentiment, stating that deaths related to mesothelioma actually increased between 1999 and 2015.
What Is Mesothelioma?
A form of cancer that develops in the lungs, heart or abdomen, mesothelioma is mostly seen in patients who have been exposed to asbestos over a long period of time. This means that the majority of mesothelioma cases are seen primarily in those who work in the construction and building renovation industries, as well as manufacturing plants where asbestos is used in creating various products.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), asbestos “has been used in products, such as insulation for pipes (steam lines for example), floor tiles, building materials, and in vehicle brakes and clutches.”
The reason for these common uses is that asbestos is a combination of naturally occurring minerals that are heat and corrosion resistant, meaning they work well in buildings and heat-generating products like cars.
It wasn’t until 1977 that the first actions were taken to limit asbestos use in these products, resulting in the current law that states products can only use 1 percent of the material in their composition. Due to this regulation, many thought that asbestos-related cases of mesothelioma were on the decline. The new CDC report, however, tells a different story, posing the obvious question: why are mesothelioma-related deaths increasing?
A Failure of Regulation
According to the CDC report, “the continuing occurrence of mesothelioma deaths among persons aged <55 years suggests ongoing occupational and environmental exposures to asbestos fibers and other causative EMPs, despite regulatory actions by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at limiting asbestos exposure.”
As previously mentioned, the first attempt to regulate the use of asbestos happened in 1977, with a follow-up attempt to ban all asbestos-related products coming in 1989; a decision that was overturned in 1991.
This caused, as the CDC notes in its study, a continued use of asbestos in products in the United States, as well as products imported from overseas. Due to this, workers in industries that use asbestos are still regularly exposed to the poisonous material. Relaxed regulations have also seen less than ideal onsite precautions for those working in building renovation and demolition, with the study noting, “new cases [of mesothelioma] might result from occupational exposure to asbestos fibers … if controls are insufficient to protect workers.”
This on-going issue with the lack of regulation, or at the very least lack of adherence to current law, has caused many patients to take to the courts to try and pursue change. Several law firms support mesothelioma victims, even taking cases all the way to the United States Supreme Court with high-profile settlements and payouts, which they hope will trigger change faster than with state or federal regulators.
Slow to Diagnose, Quick to Kill
Another reason for the increase in deaths could be due to the very nature of the disease. The CDC study reports the biggest increase in deaths is in the ≥85 years age group, which highlights the fact that mesothelioma tends be a very slow disease when it comes to developing symptoms (20-50 years), but with a very fast mortality rate once a diagnosis is given (between 12 and 21 months).
As such, the continued lack of a cure and no significant early detection factors mean that those exposed to asbestos before regulations took place are just now receiving diagnoses after, according to the CDC, being possibly “exposed to asbestos during spraying of asbestos insulation … during 1958-1972.”
What this also tells us is that there might be many more cases of mesothelioma on the horizon, with future patients not yet showing symptoms.
Are You At Risk?
There are several factors that go into mesothelioma, especially its severity and eventual prognosis. With deaths of the disease increasing its important to recognize your own risk factors. By knowing your risk factors and monitoring your health more closely, it might enable you to receive a diagnosis as early as possible.
Mesothelioma Risk Factors:
- Exposure to asbestos for an extended period of time i.e. construction workers, auto plant workers, demolition crews, etc.
- Smoking doubles the risk of developing mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer.
- Men are far more likely to develop the disease than women as they are more likely to participate in industries that work with asbestos.
- A family member who works with asbestos. Your chance of inhaling asbestos fibers increases when you live with someone who works with the material.
- You’re related to someone who had mesothelioma. Your risk of contracting the disease increases if you have a genetic link with a person who has/had the cancer.