A recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that certain forms of cancer are more likely to develop in different socio-economic groups than others. According to the study, people living in wealthy areas are more likely to get breast, prostate and skin cancers than those living in poorer zones, and those living in disadvantaged parts of the country are more likely to develop bowel, cervical and lung cancers.
While there are many, complex factors that might be causing these trends, the Ban Asbestos Now team wanted to address the question – are certain groups more likely to develop asbestos-related diseases than others?
Although unfortunately almost everyone gets exposed to some level of asbestos during their lifetime, the majority of people who become ill from asbestos have been exposed on a regular basis, most often because of their occupation and work history. Because asbestos was used in many insulation and building materials, high-risk industries for asbestos-related diseases include automotive, shipbuilding, construction and manufacturing. Because of these high-risk fields, mesothelioma is often thought of as a “blue-collar disease.”
But mesothelioma does not just affect workers; family members of high-risk workers have been shown to have an increased risk for asbestos-related health problems as well. There are many sad stories of secondhand asbestos exposure occurring when workers bring home asbestos fibers on their clothes, skin, and hair, and their children and wives hug them or do laundry. Like firsthand exposure, the symptoms related to secondhand asbestos exposure can be life-threatening and may not emerge for 10 to 40 years after the initial contact with the material.
No different than some people incorrectly assuming that lung cancer is a “smoker’s disease” or breast cancer is a “wealthy woman’s cancer,” asbestos-related diseases affect people of all shapes, colors and social classes. While some people have worked jobs with more direct contact with asbestos than others, the sooner we recognize that everyone potentially is at risk to asbestos exposure, the safer we’ll all be.