Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina have recently conducted a study into the mesothelioma rates of sheet metal workers, and have concluded that these workers are at higher risk for developing the asbestos cancer.
The study, which will be published in the August edition of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, looked at sheet metal workers who had at least two years’ experience in the trade. It analyzed mortality rates between 1986 and 2004, in over 17,000 workers who participated in a disease screening program. The Duke researchers discovered a higher asbestos death rate from conditions like malignant esothelioma and asbestosis.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavities, and also covers the lungs themselves. The mesothelium, as this lining is called, protects the organs and produces a special fluid which allows them to move. When a person experiences exposure to asbestos, however, they may be more prone to developing this disease. The reason for this is because asbestos is made up of millions of microscopic fibers – some curly in shape, others thin and needlelike – that can penetrate the body’s soft tissues and eventually become malignant.
One of the most challenging aspects of diagnosing mesothelioma is its long latency period – it can be years, or even decades, between the initial exposure to asbestos and the diagnosis of mesothelioma. Add to that the close resemblance of mesothelioma’s symptoms to the symptoms of other, more common respiratory diseases, and it’s easy to understand why this cancer often goes undiagnosed, or is not diagnosed until it has reached late stages.
It has long been understood that workers with direct exposure to asbestos – those in the fields of construction, mining, ship-building, demolition and renovation – have had the highest risk of contracting mesothelioma, but the new study shows that sheet metal workers and others with less direct exposure to asbestos also carry an increased risk.