1 in 8 With Lung Cancer Show Asbestos Exposure

One in eight lung cancer patients had pleural plaques, a thickening of lung membranes due to asbestos exposure, according to a medical research paper released Monday. This paper was jointly released by 12 medical institutions in Japan.

The research team reported that the number of people who died from asbestos-related lung cancer annually may amount to several thousand.

In the nation, approximately 60,000 have lung cancer that ends terminally.

Only 660 people were recognized as suffering from asbestos-related lung cancer in fiscal 2007 thus making them eligible for government aid. This illustrates how many individuals are left out of government funding.

In 2006, 12 medical institutions, which belong to the Japan Federation of Democratic Medical Institutions, in six prefectures—which included Tokyo, Hokkaido and Aichi—examined 471 patients. These patients were between the ages of 26 and 94 and were diagnosed with nonmetastatic lung cancer, and were checked to see if pleural plaques had developed.

The research team discovered pleural plaques in 28 patients through chest X-rays (5.9 percent) and in 58 patients through high-resolution computer tomography (12.3 percent).

The pleural plaques were diagnosed in those who mainly had repeated exposure to asbestos. 14 of the 35 patients worked in the construction industry and six out of 23 worked in the metal manufacturing and processing industry.

The study panel of the Japanese Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry, named asbestos exposure as the sole cause of pleural plaques.

Asbestos consists of long, thin fibrous crystals and may be mixed with other substances in order to resist heat, electricity and chemical damage. Due to these characteristics, asbestos was used in many buildings and other structures throughout the 1900s. One estimation is that up to 80% of all buildings constructed before 1978 had asbestos within the design.

Once asbestos is damaged, it is released into the air, where it can be inhaled, thereby lodging the fibers into bodily organs—such as the heart, abdomen, and lungs. It cannot be removed from these soft tissues, and exposure to asbestos, especially repeated exposure, may lead to various asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Akihiko Tamura, director of Kyushu Institute of Social Medicine and a member of the research team said, “Only a small population of lung cancer patients has been recognized as eligible for the worker’s compensation insurance system and other aid. I presume that many lung cancer patients are excluded from government relief.”