A recent study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that occupational exposure to asbestos fibres is associated with increased risk of mesothelioma and lung, laryngeal and ovarian cancers.
Around 125 million people worldwide are still exposed to asbestos in the workplace, the vast majority in low- and middle- income countries (LMICs) where the use of asbestos remains common in certain industries. It is estimated that at least 100,000 people die each year from mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer and several other asbestos-related diseases, primarily resulting from occupational exposures. Because of their long latency period (the period of time between the start of a disease and the point at which the symptoms make themselves apparent) asbestos-related cancers, and in particular mesothelioma, will remain a significant health problem for years to come including in countries in which asbestos has been banned for several decades.
Impact of interventions aimed at decreasing asbestos exposure
The scale and level of exposures has fallen considerably in countries where bans on asbestos use were enforced in the early 1990s. However, as of the start of 2011 only 55 countries had implemented bans or severe restrictions on asbestos use and the vast majority of these are high-resource countries (1).
All the available evidence on the impact of interventions aimed at decreasing asbestos exposure on reduction of cancer rates comes from studies in high-resource countries. The results of these studies suggest that prevention efforts have been effective in decreasing incidence of lung cancer and, to a lesser extent, mesothelioma. In light of the available evidence, the World Health Organisation (WHO) strongly recommends stopping the use of all types of asbestos as the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related disease. This is particularly important in developing countries, to prevent a second, even larger wave of the global asbestos disaster.
(1) Kazan-Allen L. Current Asbestos Bans and Restrictions - International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. [Internet] Available from: http://ibasecretariat.org/alpha_ban_list.php - consulted 06/04/2010.
Source: International Agency for Research on Cancer