Asbestos Research Update – December 2013


New reports suggest that firefighters are at risk of asbestos related illness, particularly Mesothelioma, an often fatal cancer. However, in more positive news, high dose radiation therapy, as a follow-up to aggressive pleurectomy/decortication surgery for patients with pleural mesothelioma has produced impressive results in a recent Italian study.

Asbestos Removal

Firefighters left with the disease simply by entering burning buildings

A study in the US has found that there are higher rates of several different cancers among firefighters, when compared to the general population. This has been found by several studies in the past. What is significant about the new research is that it found a high incidence of mesothelioma, a cancer almost always linked to asbestos exposure.

While the research didn't specifically look at how the firefighters contracted mesothelioma, the most apparent reason would seem to be that many buildings still contain asbestos. If a building with asbestos in it is on fire, the asbestos would be disturbed and the dust would spread in the air.

Philip Gower, Partner in Industrial Disease at Simpson Millar LLP said:

"Asbestos is well known as a hazard to human health but many don't truly realise how devastating it can be. Asbestos enters a firefighters lungs and gets all over their clothing and equipment. Because it's on their clothes, it can spread to colleagues, their families, and their friends. It was often used because of its flame and heat resistance, so it doesn't simply burn away, just like it doesn't disappear from a person's lungs once it's there."

Ray of hope in new mesothelioma therapy

In a more positive finding, research in Italy has shown promising results for mesothelioma sufferers who undergo high dose radiation therapy after aggressive surgery.

The study examined mesothelioma patients and provided high dose radiation therapy to those with one of two types of surgery on their cancer:

  • Lung-sparing surgery
  • Surgery involving the removal of an entire lung

The results showed an average survival rate of 33 months. This is an improvement on the usual prognosis which is often between 11 and 21 months. 49 percent of those in the study survived for longer than 3 years, so while not a cure, it certainly is a step in the right direction and a ray of hope for sufferers.

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