Older adults and women are two main demographics where researchers are seeing an increase in non-occupational mesothelioma diagnoses, according to Paul Demers, director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre at Ontario Health.

Demers just completed a study, Mesothelioma: Epidemiology and Prognosis, in which he compared 4,000 cases of mesothelioma in British Columbia and Ontario from 1993 to 2017. Most of the cases he reviewed over the 25-year span involved occupational asbestos exposure, but he noted increasing numbers of mesothelioma diagnoses in people who were not exposed to asbestos on the job.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, a durable, fire-resistant mineral widely used in construction and ship building materials and friction products. Asbestos, a known carcinogen, is now largely banned in Canada — but only restricted in the United States. It can take up to 50 years for patients to present with mesothelioma symptoms. Once diagnosed, prognosis is generally dire, with most people dying within 12 to 24 months.

Demers said this trend of increasing non-occupational mesothelioma cases is “part of the gradual transition, I think, of moving away from being driven by the very high exposures in the past to having more people being exposed at lower levels but still getting cases.”

Asbestos exposure

Many people could have been exposed to microscopic asbestos fibers without knowing — home insulation, automotive parts, even talcum powder can become contaminated with the carcinogenic fibers. Secondary asbestos exposure is also a real problem. People who worked in environments where they were exposed to asbestos can bring home asbestos fibers on their bodies, clothing and shoes, and put family members at risk. For example, washing someone’s clothes that are contaminated with asbestos can increase the risk of secondary asbestos exposure. It could take decades for that exposure to lead to mesothelioma.

It’s these smaller exposures that Demers says are resulting in the rising trend of mesothelioma cases among older adults and women. “The really high asbestos exposures that people got in workplaces are becoming less common,” he said. “But lower exposures from asbestos that’s in buildings where people are living — that’s gradually escaping into the environment — will become more important over time.”

Mesothelioma litigation

Beasley Allen lawyers handle mesothelioma claims. They are looking at cases of industrial, occupational and secondary asbestos exposure resulting in lung cancer or mesothelioma as well as claims of asbestos-related talc products linked to mesothelioma. Charlie Stern in our Toxic Torts Section is the lead attorney working on these types of cases. As an experienced mesothelioma lawyer, Charlie is well equipped to tackle asbestos cases, which are highly complicated and require someone with a true understanding of the facts, medical issues, science and law. He is working together with Will Sutton, an experienced lawyer in our Toxic Torts Section. Contact us for more information.

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