Mesothelioma Deaths Peak 30 Years After Asbestos Ban
Almost 30 years after Italy passed sweeping legislation that banned the mining, use and commercialization of asbestos, the country is facing the peak of its mesothelioma cancer crisis.
The worst has just arrived.
Asbestos may be the primary cause of mesothelioma, but banning it did not slow the rate of diagnosis or death from this rare and aggressive cancer.
The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published an in-depth study recently that examined the connection in Italy between its ban of asbestos and the deaths from mesothelioma.
Researchers found there is no immediate benefit from an asbestos ban, serving as a reminder to continue the search for a cure to save those who will be diagnosed in the future.
“The MPM [malignant pleural mesothelioma] epidemic in Italy is still far from being concluded,” the study authors wrote. “Our results suggest that the number of MPM cases is still increasing.”
Italy Passed Its Ban Almost 30 Years Ago
Italy passed its ban of asbestos in 1992. It is one of more than 60 countries today that have instituted some form of a ban.
Yet the rate of asbestos-related disease is at an all-time high, exceeding an estimated 100,000 deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization.
Asbestos is the naturally occurring mineral that was used ubiquitously through much of the 20th century in a myriad of products. It was hailed for its versatility, strength and heat resistance.
Unfortunately, asbestos also is toxic when its microscopic fibers are inhaled or ingested, leading to a range of serious health issues.
The effects of past asbestos use in Italy — and throughout the world — can linger almost indefinitely. There is legacy asbestos, which remains prominent in commercial and residential structures built in the 20th century.
And there is the lengthy latency period between first exposure to asbestos and obvious symptoms of mesothelioma. A diagnosis may not come until 20 to 50 years later.
“Several industrialized countries that banned asbestos a long time ago are now just approaching the peak of MPM cases,” the authors wrote. “In other countries, where the widespread use of asbestos was common until recently or is still occurring, the increase in MPM incidence is expected to last for many decades.”
Numbers Are Peaking Now
The study predicts a record 7,000 deaths from mesothelioma in Italy between 2020 and 2024, the most for any five-year period since the records were first kept in 1970.
Nearly 29,000 Italians died of mesothelioma from 1970 to 2014, according to the study.
Deaths increased in each of the five-year segments, reaching 5,844 from 2010 to 2014.
Another 26,200 deaths from mesothelioma are expected from 2015 to 2039.
Researchers believe the decline will be gradual. They expect only a 20% decline from the peak to the 2035 to 2039 period.
In their predictions, the authors admittedly did not take into account any potential treatment advances that could extend mesothelioma survival times.
They touched on previous studies from other countries, including Spain and Canada, which expect their deaths from mesothelioma to peak in 2020.
Brazil predicts a peak in 2026, and Japan and South Korea in 2030.
The United States is one of the only industrialized countries to not have a comprehensive asbestos ban in place. Mesothelioma deaths in the U.S. are on the decline, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A total of 45,221 malignant mesothelioma deaths were reported in the U.S. between 1999 and 2015.
“In our case, the Italian ban implemented in 1992 is probably starting just now to show its positive effects,” the authors wrote. “But a substantial part of the MPM epidemic in Italy is still to come.”