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Asbestos Exposure | Exposure to Asbestos

The process of developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure is a long one. Furthermore, while the development of mesothelioma correlates with asbestos exposure, such exposure isn’t an absolute indicator of who will get the tumor and who won’t. Since there is no national or international mesothelioma registry, statistics for the disease vary widely, depending upon the source. Nevertheless, there is a valid statistical relationship between the amount of exposure to asbestos and the incidence of mesothelioma.

Three Primary Groups at Risk for Mesothelioma

If we contain this discussion to the subject of pleural mesothelioma, we will find that well over fifty years of published studies have established three primary groups of individuals by virtue of their asbestos exposure. These include:

  • Group 1: Individuals with high levels of exposure of a short duration,
  • Group 2: Individuals with high levels of exposure of long duration and
  • Group 3: Individuals with low levels of exposure of long duration. (l)

The majority of studies showed that Group 1 asbestos exposure sometimes led to gradual impairment of lung function but it didn’t always rise to the level of asbestosis, i.e. there was little evidence of plaque or nodules in the pleural space. Group 1 also had a relatively high incidence of cancer, most of which was later to be called mesothelioma.

The second case, Group 2, led to very high levels of impairment with asbestosis and early death from the effects of the impairment, including secondary illnesses with some cases of mesothelioma.

The third case, Group 3, led to gradual impairment with asbestosis and death caused by a broad spectrum of secondary conditions such as pneumonia, emphysema, tuberculosis etc. Asbestosis appeared to greatly reduce the patient’s ability to resist secondary diseases, raising some of these to the level of fatal illnesses. (o)

Mesothelioma was not seen as often in groups two and three. Medical researchers felt that this was because patients either didn't live long enough to develop cancer or weren't genetically at risk. Ironically, only after dust abatement practices were mandated into the workplace did the incidence of mesothelioma become a significant health issue in the literature and in the vernacular of the medical community, lending credence to the theory about group two.

Mesothelioma studies have also revealed a clear relationship between the amount of dust inhaled over a lifetime and the development of asbestosis. Trades with a history of working with asbestos tend to dominate the population of mesothelioma patients. The greater the former, the more likely it would be that signs of asbestosis would be observed. Conversely, it was discovered that there was no safe level of asbestos exposure with respect to mesothelioma, since even short exposures could create the cancer, with or without asbestosis symptoms.

Maintaining awareness of who is at risk for mesothelioma as well as the side effects of exposure to asbestos is a key to prevention. Contact the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation for detailed information, the latest news and support.