Mesothelioma – unfortunately – will be among us for decades still.
A lengthy latency period – it can take from 20 to 50 years for this cancer to develop – means an uncertain future for anyone previously exposed for a substantial period of time.
The Canadian Cancer Society has estimated that 500 Canadians annually are diagnosed with mesothelioma, a trend that is unlikely to drop anytime soon. And while progress is being made in better diagnostics and advanced, personalized therapies, there still is no cure.
The decline of the asbestos industry has been welcomed by medical professionals, who understand the toll it has taken. An exposure to asbestos can cause a number of serious respiratory illnesses, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.
There were more than 25,000 lung cancer cases reported among Canadians in 2012, but it’s unknown how many were prompted by asbestos exposure. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 100,000 people die each year from an asbestos-related illness.
Although the use of asbestos within Canada has dropped dramatically in the past two decades, the mining and the exportation of it remained strong through 2010 when 150,000 tons still were produced. An estimated 90 percent was exported to still-developing countries, many of which did not have the necessary regulations in place to handle it safely.
Asbestos, which once was hailed worldwide as a wonderful resource, still is used in developing countries to strengthen, insulate and resist heat in any type of construction. It is used as a binder in cement and to fireproof walls and roofs. It also has a long history of being toxic when the fibers are ingested or inhaled.
And while more than 50 countries had banned all asbestos use, Canada internationally was criticized for its continued production and its resistance to include the substance among those deemed hazardous by the Rotterdam Convention.
In 2012, though, the Canadian government did cancel its promise of a $58 million loan guarantee that would have kept the asbestos mining industry alive. And it joined much of the international community in labeling asbestos as hazardous.
But like everyone else worldwide, Canada still must deal with mesothelioma, which attacks the thin lining around the lung and abdomen. It often is not detected until it has metastasized, leaving patients with a prognosis of six to 18 months to live.
The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that mesothelioma patients have only a 7 percent chance of surviving five years. While the mines have closed, the threat of mesothelioma remains. Buildings constructed before the mid-80s likely still are filled with asbestos. And as they age, they become more dangerous, particularly during renovations when the asbestos is disturbed.
Tim Povtak is a senior content writer from The Mesothelioma Center. He previously worked for AOL and the Orlando Sentinel.