Written By: Karen Selby, RN,
Last modified: October 15, 2021

Impact of Mesothelioma Cancer on Canadians

After climbing steadily over the past two decades, Canada’s mesothelioma cancer rate is now one of the highest in the world.

Canada’s past dedication to the mining of chrysotile asbestos and its track record of permitting the production and use of asbestos in thousands of products laid the groundwork for exposing its citizens. The most significant increases occurred in Vancouver and Quebec. Vancouver’s shipyards exposed many Canadians, and Quebec is home to many of Canada’s early asbestos mines.

About 1.6 of every 100,000 Canadians are diagnosed annually with mesothelioma, according to Statistics Canada. For context, consider that in 1984, 153 men in Canada were diagnosed with mesothelioma throughout all the country’s provinces. By 2003, 344 cases were reported among men and 78 among women. Deaths from mesothelioma totaled 515 in 2010.

Signs of a decrease are emerging. In 2017, 490 Canadians died from mesothelioma.

Because of the disease’s latency period of between 20 and 50 years, medical professionals expect the death rate may not level off for several more years.

In 2018, the Canadian government passed the Prohibition of Asbestos and Products Containing Asbestos Regulations, sponsored by Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada. Canada’s asbestos ban was many years in the making, but it still includes exceptions for certain uses of asbestos.

Quick Facts About Mesothelioma in Canada

  • Asbestos exposure is the No. 1 cause of occupational death in Canada.
  • Since 1996, asbestos-related disease has accounted for around a third of workplace deaths in Canada.
  • Mesothelioma symptoms include difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest pain and fatigue.
  • Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma.
  • The primary types of mesothelioma develop in the lung lining (pleural) and abdominal lining (peritoneal).
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Canadian Occupations Impacted by Mesothelioma

The most at-risk occupations for asbestos exposure are in Canada’s formerly thriving asbestos mining industry. Another group of workers in industrial and construction jobs also show high rates of mesothelioma.

Primary High-Risk Asbestos Occupations

Workers involved in the mining and shipping of raw asbestos fibers were among the most at risk of exposure and developing mesothelioma.

  • Miners
  • Ship loaders
  • Truck drivers

Secondary High-Risk Asbestos Occupations

A secondary group of workers is also considered at risk. These are people who worked in trades that were one step removed from the process of removing asbestos from mines and transporting it to second- and third-world countries that continue to use asbestos products in construction.

  • Carpenters
  • Construction workers
  • Insulation installers
  • Plumbers
  • Roofers
  • Shipbuilders
  • Textile workers

In the 21st century, Canada’s domestic production and consumption of asbestos declined, so fewer mining and manufacturing workers were exposed. Renovation and demolition of the country’s aging buildings, especially in Quebec and British Columbia from the 1950s through the 1980s, caused the mesothelioma rate to rise among construction and maintenance workers.

Compensation for Asbestos Exposure in Canada

In Canada, mesothelioma is a compensable disease. This means patients can receive payment from provincial governments if documentation proves their asbestos exposure happened in the workplace.

It is estimated that less than half of the affected workers actually apply for compensation. According to the Canadian Society for Asbestos Victims, some Canadians injured by asbestos do not seek compensation because they incorrectly believe nobody knew of its dangers and thus nobody is at fault.

People exposed in the U.S. but living in Canada may still be eligible for compensation.

Multimillion-dollar verdicts have been awarded recently in lawsuits involving asbestos-contaminated talc. The mineral has come under intense scrutiny, particularly its use in cosmetics and personal care items. Talc and asbestos naturally form alongside one another, leading to possible contamination. Canada has moved toward restricting talc products, and is expected to place talc on its official toxic substances list.

Asbestos Lawsuits and Trust Funds for Canadians

Patients diagnosed with mesothelioma may file a lawsuit and/or trust fund claim seeking compensation to cover medical bills and other expenses related to the diagnosis. Family members who lost a loved one to mesothelioma may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit and/or a trust fund claim.

Other options for compensation include Canada Pension Plan Disability, WorkSafeBC Disability Pension, Veterans Affairs Disability Pension and class action lawsuits.

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Mesothelioma Treatment in Canada

The number of mesothelioma cases in Canada calls for a medical system offering good treatment options for mesothelioma. Canada has a socialized medical insurance system. In both the U.S. and Canada, treatment for the disease is the same.

Canadian Treatment Centers

Canada has a number of cancer centers, hospitals and specialists dedicated to the treatment of all types of cancer. Canada is also making headway in the treatment of mesothelioma. Treatment options are based on factors such as the stage of the cancer, the size and location of the tumor and the age of the patient.

Mesothelioma Treatment Centers in Canada
Center/Institute Location
Cross Cancer Institute at U of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre Toronto, Ontario
Fraser Valley Cancer Centre Surrey, British Columbia
Vancouver Cancer Centre Vancouver, British Columbia
Centre for the Southern Interior Kelowna, British Columbia
Nova Scotia Cancer Centre Halifax, Nova Scotia
Margaret and Charles Juravinski CC Hamilton, Ontario
Toronto Western Hospital Toronto, Ontario
London Regional Cancer Centre London, Ontario
Ottawa Hospital Regional Cancer Centre Ottawa, Ontario
McGill University Health Centre Montreal, Quebec
L’Hopital Laval Quebec
Tom Baker Cancer Centre Calgary, Alberta

Mesothelioma Specialists in Canada

A growing number of surgeons, oncologists and radiologists in Canada are becoming specialized in mesothelioma treatment.

Key mesothelioma researchers and doctors in Canada:

  • Robert MacRae, M.D.
  • Jean Seely, M.D.
  • Christopher Lee, M.D.
  • Rufus Scrimger, M.D.
  • Marc dePerrot, M.D.
  • John Cho, M.D.
  • Demetris Patsios, M.D.
  • Brenda O’Sullivan, M.D.
  • Wally Temple, M.D.
  • Lloyd Mack, M.D.
  • Andrea McCart, M.D.

Clinical Trials

The National Cancer Institute of Canada and the U.S. National Cancer Institute often collaborate on clinical trials to test the effectiveness of certain medications in the treatment of a number of diseases, including mesothelioma.

A prime example is an ongoing phase II trial for the drug sunitinib malate, currently being tested for its ability to stop the growth of tumor cells by blocking the enzymes needed for tumor growth.

A good source to check for open clinical trials is clinicaltrials.gov, a website run by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. It is important to speak with a doctor, as some patients may not qualify for certain trials.

Canadian Asbestos Mines

Canada’s rate of mesothelioma corresponds with the country’s long-held relationship with asbestos, which causes all forms of the disease. The country’s first asbestos mine opened in Quebec in 1879, and asbestos soon became known as “Canada’s Gold.”

As the 20th century approached, an increasing number of asbestos mines opened, taking advantage of the large deposits of the mineral found in provinces that included Quebec, Newfoundland, British Columbia and the Yukon. Companies such as Johns Manville arrived and used Canada’s asbestos to manufacture a variety of products used in Canada and worldwide.

Quick Fact:
By 1966, Canada produced 40% of the world’s chrysotile asbestos. By the 1970s, doctors had declared the asbestos mining towns in Canada to be among the most dangerous in the world, with rates of mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases increasing.

In early 2008, it was revealed that Health Canada had quietly begun to study the dangers of chrysotile asbestos in an effort to politicize the value and safety of the mineral. The two scientists on the project were supporters of the chrysotile asbestos industry.

In a written statement, Health Canada said that it found chrysotile asbestos to be “safe when used under controlled conditions,” and safe use of the material would be regulated by Canada both domestically and abroad. Chrysotile and all other types of asbestos are not considered safe under any conditions and all forms of asbestos are known to cause mesothelioma.

Asbestos opponents and those weary of seeing Canada’s mesothelioma rate rise celebrated in 2011 when the country’s asbestos industry came to a halt. Canada’s last two remaining active asbestos mines, the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec, and the Lac d’amiante du Canada in the nearby town of Thetford Mines, Quebec, shut down because of financial, labor and development issues. It was the first time in 130 years that Canadian asbestos production stalled.

Asbestos Ban in Canada

Canada long resisted a universal ban of asbestos as proposed by the World Health Organization and many other countries. At the 2008 Rotterdam Convention, Canada, India, Pakistan and a few other countries voted to keep chrysotile asbestos off of a United Nations “watchlist” of dangerous chemicals.

After many hours of deliberation, chrysotile asbestos was not added to the watchlist, and Canada continued to be a major exporter of chrysotile asbestos to many countries that do not monitor asbestos exposure or regulate its use.

The Canadian government imposed some regulations on asbestos use. It also began spending billions of dollars to remove asbestos from schools, factories, plants and other commercial buildings.

As late as 2011, however, the government was considering the possibility of reopening the open pit Jeffrey Mine in Quebec, which would have allowed the asbestos exports industry to grow.

Funding Dries Up

For decades, the Canadian government and the government of Quebec financially supported the Chrysotile Institute, an asbestos lobby group. But in March 2011, Ottawa chose not to allocate funds to the institute for the following year, marking the first step in the right direction for supporters of an asbestos ban.

In addition, a federation of 300,000 unionized Quebecers also pulled its funding, and experts believed the asbestos industry was starting to weaken. In April 2012, the institute announced it was shutting down.

Asbestos Is Banned in 2018

The Prohibition of Asbestos and Products Containing Asbestos Regulations passed in 2018, but certain uses of asbestos remain legal in Canada. Nuclear energy and Canadian military facilities are allowed to use asbestos through 2029. The chloralkali industry has until 2030 to phase out asbestos.

In addition, magnesium extraction companies will be permitted to work the highly toxic tailings of former asbestos mines.

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