Mesothelioma is a very rare disease, and while most Americans have heard of it, the extent of their knowledge about mesothelioma is that it is caused by exposure to asbestos and that it is deadly. Thus, it may be puzzling to many Americans to hear that, even though most uses of asbestos have been banned in this country for decades, the rates of mesothelioma deaths in the United States continue to increase.

According to a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, more people in this country died from mesothelioma in 2015 than did in 1999. In 1999, there were 2,479 mesothelioma deaths in the United States. Sixteen years later, there were more than 100 more mesothelioma deaths, bringing the total for the year 2015 to 2,597.

To most, it would seem logical that bans enacted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the late 1970s which nearly eliminated permitted new uses of asbestos in this country would quickly correlate to a marked decrease in mesothelioma deaths. Asbestos is a mineral that is known for its affordability, durability, and resistance to extremely high temperatures, so it has been used throughout history for a variety of applications. Well into the 20th century, asbestos was used heavily in the United States in insulation, plumbing, roofing, flooring, fireproofing, automotive parts, and an unlimited number of products with which Americans may come into daily contact.

Though laws passed in the 1970s did eliminate most new uses of asbestos, it would be impossible to get rid of all of the asbestos in our homes, workplaces, schools, and products. Thus, it is still possible that people are exposed to asbestos in this country on a regular basis. The Department of Labor enforces strict laws mandating that all employees are protected from asbestos exposure risks, but, as Dr. Hedy Kindler of the University of Chicago mesothelioma program recently told CNN, “The problem with asbestos exposure is, there are really so many places where one can be exposed.”

In addition to the fact that asbestos is still present in many products and materials with which Americans come into daily contact, another reason that rates of mesothelioma deaths and diagnoses have not decreased is that this disease has an especially long latency period. According to Dr. Kindler, “It can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years from exposure to the development of mesothelioma.”

While asbestos exposure is known to be the cause of mesothelioma, it is also known that not every person who is exposed to asbestos develops this rare cancer. This is because certain individuals may be genetically predisposed to be more vulnerable to mesothelioma. Kindler says, “This is what we call a gene-environment interaction. You still need the asbestos exposure, but the genetic predisposition can make you more likely to develop mesothelioma with a lower level of asbestos exposure.”

While workers who are known to have been exposed to asbestos or at a high risk for exposure are afforded medical monitoring to intercept early signs of an asbestos disease like mesothelioma, there is not standard for early screening in the general population. Thus, if you know that there is a history of mesothelioma in your family, whether you believe you have been exposed to asbestos or not, it is important that you share this information with your doctor. As with most forms of cancer, mesothelioma is most effectively treated when diagnosed at an early stage.

To learn more about how to prevent asbestos exposure, mesothelioma, and options available to mesothelioma patients and their families, please contact us for a free consultation.