Study: Mesothelioma risk persists decades after asbestos exposure

Based on the findings of a recent study, workers who are exposed to asbestos in the workplace do not outlive their risk of developing mesothelioma.

Workers in Ohio, and throughout the U.S., commonly contract occupational diseases. One such condition is mesothelioma, which often develops as a result of asbestos exposure. According to The Mesothelioma Center, it is estimated that 3,000 people are diagnosed with this condition each year in the U.S. It has been widely noted that the risk of mesothelioma increases in the years after workers are initially exposed. However, until recently, it was not known whether that risk was indefinite.

What is mesothelioma?

Most of the body's internal organs are lined by a protective membrane, known as the mesothelium. This membrane is formed by specialized mesothelial cells. According to the American Cancer Society, malignant mesothelioma is a type of cancerous tumor that forms in these cells. Often, it starts in the chest or abdomen.

One of the primary risk factors for the development of this condition is working with asbestos. Those who work in asbestos mines or asbestos processing plants, the construction or automotive industries, or who serve on military ships might be exposed to asbestos. Employees who develop this potentially fatal occupational disease are often entitled to workers' compensation benefits.

Studying the toxicity of asbestos over time

Researchers from Curtin University in Australia conducted a study to understand the risk of developing malignant mesothelioma more than 40 years after people were first exposed to asbestos. The study and its findings were published in the Thorax medical journal.

For the study, researchers examined the records for more than 22,000 people who were exposed to asbestos in the workplace and residential areas. The study included 862 mesothelioma cases; 707 of which were malignant mesothelioma cases. The people whose records were examined in the study had been exposed to asbestos for an average of 3.75 years. It had been an average of 38.4 years since they were first exposed.

Risk of malignant mesothelioma does not lessen over time

Based on the study's findings, the risk of workers developing mesothelioma secondary to asbestos exposure does not ever decrease. According to The Mesothelioma Center, the study showed that 44 percent of all pleural, or chest, malignant mesothelioma cases were diagnosed within 40 years of when people were first exposed to asbestos. 13.3 percent of such cases were diagnosed 50 years after the first exposure.

Until 45 years after people are first exposed to asbestos, the study found that the rate and risk of malignant mesothelioma increases. Between 40 and 50 years after exposure, the rate of increase appears to level out. The researchers did note, however, that people do not generally live long enough for the excess risk to dissipate entirely. Thus, asbestos exposure poses a lifelong risk of developing mesothelioma.

Seeking legal guidance

For some Ohio workers, it may be difficult to obtain workers' compensation for occupational mesothelioma. This is because they may develop this condition decades after they were initially exposed to asbestos. In order to help ensure that they receive the benefits to which they are entitled, those who find themselves suffering from mesothelioma may find it of benefit to consult with an attorney. A legal representative may help them to understand their rights, as well as guide them through the claims filing process.