A research team is reporting that incidences of malignant mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, can be more than twice as high in people living close to naturally occurring asbestos areas than those living elsewhere. The study, titled “High-risk mesothelioma relation to meteorological and geological condition and distance from naturally occurring asbestos,” was recently published in the Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine journal.
Asbestos is a natural but toxic mineral that was frequently used across a wide variety of industries. Asbestos microscopic fibers inside the body, either via lungs or by ingestion, are unable to be processed or expelled, leading to harmful inflammation and scarring of the mesothelium, a thin membrane that forms the lining of several body cavities.
Malignant mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive tumor that forms on the thin protective tissues that cover the lungs and abdomen in people who have been directly exposed to high levels of asbestos. However, very few studies have investigated the incidence and risk of malignant mesothelioma in other settings, particularly upon exposure to naturally occurring asbestos.
Researchers from Dicle University in Diyarbakir, Turkey, followed 180 patients with malignant mesothelioma during five years, and tracked patients’ birthplaces, which were displayed on a geologic map to assess how different regions and distance to naturally occurring asbestos influence the risk for malignant mesothelioma. The team found that the majority of the malignant mesothelioma cases were detected within naturally occurring asbestos areas. Specifically, researchers detected a statistically significant difference between patients’ tumor incidence and asbestos distance: the incidence of malignant mesothelioma inside naturally occurring asbestos areas was 1,059/100,000, while outside them it decreased to 397/100,000.
The research team also found that the majority of malignant mesothelioma patients lived in asbestos regions directly in contact or near the dominant wind direction (patients living within a 30-degree angle of the dominant wind direction had the highest mesothelioma risk).
Alex Strauss, Surviving Mesothelioma’s managing editor, said of these findings in a press release, “Although we tend to think of mesothelioma as a disease primarily affecting asbestos workers, this study is an important reminder that asbestos does occur naturally and can pose a risk to anyone who comes near it.”