Asbestos cancer risk revised

One in 17 British carpenters born in the 1940s will die of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, accord­ing to new research.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer and funded by the charity Cancer Research UK and the Health and Safety Executive, studied more than 600 patients who have mesothelioma and 1,400 healthy people to examine UK rates of the disease linked to different occu­pations.

Men born in the 1940s who worked as carpenters for more than 10 years before they reached the age of 30 had a lifetime risk for mesothelioma of about one in 17.

For plumbers, electricians and decorators born in the same decade who worked in their trade for more than 10 years before they were 30, the risk was one in 50, and for ­other construction workers it was one in 125. For every case of mesothelioma, asbestos also caused about one case of lung cancer, so the overall risk of asbestos-related cancer for this particular group of carpenters was about one in 10, the researchers concluded.

The risk also increased in other industries, with the study showing that two-thirds of all UK men and one-quarter of women had worked in jobs involving potential asbestos exposure at some time in their lives. There was also a small increased risk for people who had lived with a person who had been exposed to ­asbestos.

By comparison, the risk of mesothelioma for the rest of the UK population who had not experienced these occupational exposures was about one in 1,000, the apparently unexposed cases accounting for 60% of all mesotheliomas in women and 15% in men.

Professor Julian Peto, Cancer Research UK epidemiologist and lead researcher based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The risk is highest in people who were exposed to asbes­tos before the age of 30. By getting information on all the jobs people had ever done, we have shown that the risk in some occupations, particularly in the building industry, is higher than we previously thought.”

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