Cases of malignant mesothelioma are on the rise, according to a statement published by the World Health Organization (WHO). Based on data provided by countries around the world, the WHO has estimated that over 92,252 deaths were caused by mesothelioma between 1994 and 2008 – that’s over 6,000 each year worldwide. Two-thirds of those deaths occurred after the year 2000.
The data analyzed by the WHO included information on deaths caused by pleural mesothelioma, which is a cancer in the lining of the lungs. Other, less common forms of mesothelioma cancer included in the report are peritoneal mesothelioma (cancer in the lining of the abdomen) and pericardial mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the heart.
Mesothelioma is most often associated with asbestos exposure and is very slow to act. People with mesothelioma typically do not see symptoms until three or more decades following asbestos exposure. Most of those suffering from mesothelioma are retired workers, with the median death age following diagnosis at about 70 years of age.
Of the recorded deaths, many occurred in industrialized countries where asbestos use has been historically high, including the United States, the UK and many other countries in Western Europe.
The WHO has stated that the actual number of mesothelioma deaths that occurred over the 15-year period that was analyzed is higher, since mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose. In addition, many countries that are huge users of asbestos failed to provide the WHO with data on mesothelioma deaths, including China, India, Thailand and Russia.
Mesothelioma has been said to have already hit its peak in the United States, as the use of asbestos has been strictly limited since the 1970s. The substance is altogether banned in places throughout Europe. Despite restrictions on its use, many contract workers in construction and demolition risk asbestos exposure while working at sites that were constructed prior to the 1970s.
Eventually, cases of mesothelioma will peak in countries were asbestos use is still more common: experts in Korea are saying that mesothelioma cases there will peak around 2045. While asbestos is used less often in the United States, concerns have been growing around another substance that is equally if not more dangerous – erionite. Several states including North Dakota and Montana have already undergone steps to protect workers from exposure, but the rest of the country is still behind on making efforts to regulate the material. Strict regulation of the material in the near future could prevent another surge of mesothelioma deaths.