Next Health Crisis? Mesothelioma Deaths Just Now Peaking In Italy

PAVIA, Italy — As fear over the new novel coronavirus continues to spread all over the United States and the entire world, another study finds a different condition may be lying in wait as another potential health crisis: mesothelioma.

Italy banned the use of asbestos for virtually all purposes way back in 1992, but today, nearly 30 years later, the southern European country appears to be just now be hitting the peak of its mesothelioma cancer crisis. For reference, asbestos is the number one cause of mesothelioma, a type of cancer derived from the thin layer of tissue covering our internal organs.

“The MPM [malignant pleural mesothelioma] epidemic in Italy is still far from being concluded,” the study reads. “Our results suggest that the number of MPM cases is still increasing.”

As unsettling as it is that banning asbestos appears to have done little to impede Italian mesothelioma diagnoses three decades later, these findings raise an even larger question to the United States, one of the few industrialized countries in the world to not have an asbestos ban in place. Essentially, if Italy is faring this poorly after instituting a ban all those years ago, is it possible that countless Americans are going to be diagnosed with mesothelioma in the decades to come?

The study’s authors are convinced that an asbestos ban offers little to no short-term benefits, and say it is that much more important for scientists to develop a cure for mesothelioma.

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Despite the fact that over 60 countries currently have a ban placed on asbestos use, asbestos-related disease is at a worldwide all-time high (roughly 100,000 deaths each year). Relied on for its durability, strength, and heat resistance, asbestos was used in construction all over the world for most of the 20th century. Unfortunately, at the time, no one had any idea it can be toxic and cancer-inducing if inhaled or ingested.

Making matters worse, all of that asbestos use in the 20th century will likely linger and cause adverse health outcomes for years to come. For example, “legacy asbestos” is believed to still reside in countless buildings all over the world, experts warn. There is also a very long latency period between exposure to asbestos and  the development of mesothelioma (20-50 years).

“Several industrialized countries that banned asbestos a long time ago are now just approaching the peak of MPM cases,” the study reads. “In other countries, where the widespread use of asbestos was common until recently or is still occurring, the increase in MPM incidence is expected to last for many decades.”

Researchers predict that Italy will see 7,000 mesothelioma deaths between 2020 and 2024, which would be a record amount for the country. Meanwhile, the CDC reports that mesothelioma deaths in the United States are currently in decline, but the U.S. still saw 45,221 malignant mesothelioma deaths between 1999-2015.

The study is published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

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