Study: Japan Mesothelioma Deaths Will Rise until 2027

Japanese palace with cherry blossoms

Deaths from mesothelioma cancer in Japan will continue rising steadily until the number peaks in 2027 and begins to decline, according to an alarming study done recently at the Hamamatsu University School of Medicine.

The same study projected a total of 66,327 mesothelioma deaths from 2003 to 2050 in Japan.

Mesothelioma is the cancer caused almost exclusively from an exposure to asbestos. The study did not project deaths from asbestosis or lung cancer, which also can be caused by an exposure to asbestos, the toxic mineral once used so extensively in industrialized countries.

The study looked only at occupational exposure, and not second-hand or casual exposure that also has been responsible for many mesothelioma deaths. Experts say that no amount of exposure is considered safe for humans.

Japan, like the United States and Canada, has dramatically reduced the use of asbestos in recent decades, but it also has not banned it completely like more than 50 countries have worldwide.

The study was done by a group of health and environmental experts, using an elaborate estimation model with more than a dozen different variables.

Mesothelioma Deaths Started Climbing in 2000

Statistics of mesothelioma mortality have been recorded in Japan since 1995, and the numbers started climbing in 2000 when 710 deaths were documented. By 2009, the number had risen to 1,156.

One of the factors in the calculation is the amount of asbestos that came into Japan since 1949. The imports  had stopped completely during World War II, but they resumed a few years after the war ended.

The Japanese importation of asbestos peaked in 1972 at 350,000 metric tons, but as late as 1988, 300,000  metric tons still were being imported annually.

The importation virtually has stopped today, but the effects of asbestos will be felt for many more years because of the lengthy latency period involved with the disease. It can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos before mesothelioma symptoms appear.

Asbestos was used in thousands of commercial and household products, in everything from cement to automobile parts. It was valued for its heat resistance, flexibility and cost effectiveness.

U.S. Mesothelioma Deaths Could Peak by 2010

The United States, by comparison, is expected to see mesothelioma deaths peak by the end of this decade, a little earlier than in Japan. There are an estimated 2,700 mesothelioma deaths annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but an estimated 10,000 deaths annually from all asbestos-related diseases, according to The Environmental Working Group.

“Our estimate has also suggested that the number of mesothelioma deaths could be significantly reduced (in the future) if there were adequate compliance with the administrative level guidelines for occupational asbestos exposure,” wrote the authors in the Japanese study.

“It seems that adequate ventilation and equipment to protect from asbestos exposure had not been used in the workplaces where asbestos use was rampant.”

Although asbestos is hardly being used in new products today, the remnants will continue to haunt the countries that once used it so extensively. The abatement process could take decades, which will leave many vulnerable to the toxic mineral as it naturally erodes.

“Future studies that stress on education with regard to protection from exposure during the demolition or the disposal of asbestos-containing materials, and more adequate measures for reducing mesothelioma risk are needed,” concluded the authors.


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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