With more and more people diagnosed with the asbestos cancer mesothelioma each year, researchers once predicted that instances of the disease would peak around 2010. This was based on calculations that took into account the latency of the cancer – that is, the time it takes for the cancer to develop – and when its cause, asbestos, was at peak usage: nearly forty years ago. Now, researchers in the United Kingdom are saying that mesothelioma-related deaths won’t peak until 2016.
Data from England’s Health and Safety Executive shows that the number of mesothelioma deaths rose by almost 100 from 2006 to 2007, and rose more than 50 in the year prior. Although the study is focusing on men, a separate report for female mesothelioma deaths will be released in the coming months. According to the HSE, the latest data shows the ratio of male to female deaths in 2007 was around 5 to 1.
Mesothelioma, an almost always fatal cancer, is caused by exposure to asbestos, a fibrous material once popular for construction purposes, as well as for use in common household goods. In the United States, the use of asbestos for such purposes was banned in the late 1970s. However it is still present in a number of buildings and homes, a cause for concern for many people as the risk of exposure increases when the material begins to deteriorate or is disrupted, as it is during renovations or repairs. However, the use of asbestos was not totally banned until 2000, which means it continues to put people at risk for the next few decades.
Mesothelioma cancer is one of the least-detectable cancers, mainly because its symptoms mimic those of common illnesses and viruses. Many sufferers are unaware that they were exposed to asbestos in the first place, causing them to overlook the possibility of the cancer. Mesothelioma happens when asbestos fibers become embedded in the lining of the lungs, heart, and abdominal cavity, a membrane called the mesothelium. This sensitive membrane can fill with fluid, causing uncomfortable pain and pressure. After many decades – mesothelioma has a latency period of 30 to 50 years – cancer cells may begin to form, dividing uncontrollably, eventually causing a mesothelioma tumor. Though efforts are ongoing, the disease remains without a cure.