Exploring the Global Burden of Mesothelioma

Despite its dangers, asbestos truly remains a global issue. Even countries like the UK and Australia that have had a ban in effect many years, still see the harmful effects of its past use. Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases pose a global health issue that isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon.

A recent study sought to better examine the global mesothelioma death rate, as in more recent years, several studies from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) lowered their estimates for the number of mesothelioma deaths in the world and hinted at a declining trend. However, not only have many countries like the United States generally seen a rather steady rate of mesothelioma incidence and death, but there continues to be a blossoming asbestos industry in the world. Countries like Russia, China, and Brazil are still actively mining and consuming the mineral as a huge aspect of their overall economies.

Through their study, researchers determined the annual number of global mesothelioma deaths to be around 38,400. This estimate is higher than the other most recent reports from the GBD, and the researchers explained their findings that mesothelioma deaths have increased over time. Overall, the report serves to show that mesothelioma is a continuing health threat around the world, even with more bans and regulations around asbestos.

Examining Global Mesothelioma Deaths

The study looked at data for mesothelioma deaths in all 195 countries over the span of two decades, from 1994 through 2014. Researchers grouped the countries into categories for those that had no available data, those with poor data, and those with overall quality data over the years. This approach left them with 59 countries that had quality data they could use to extrapolate for a global estimate.

These 59 countries, which included the United States and Great Britain, recorded a total of 15,011 mesothelioma deaths per year for the three most recent years of data. With this in mind, the researchers were able to determine an estimated range for the remaining countries that had insufficient information on mesothelioma. When considering this global estimate, the researchers also factored the populations of these countries, as well as current and historic uses of asbestos, into their calculations.

With all these factors in mind, the researchers determined an average 36,300 - 38,400 people die of mesothelioma around the world each year. In their report, they stated they believe the 38,400 to be their most accurate estimate. Overall, their numbers fall into the same general range of other past reports from the World Health Organization, which estimates around 43,000 mesothelioma deaths per year. It can also stand up to other reports that have suggested these numbers may continue to climb through the year 2025.

The researchers, however, do acknowledge they faced difficulties in completing their study since many countries lack data on this rare disease. In some cases, the data appeared skewed because of misunderstandings around the disease. For instance, another recent study estimated China’s mesothelioma incidence rate as only about 1.5 cases per million people each year. Researchers believed these numbers were significantly lower than expected from a country that has a growing asbestos industry because of poor knowledge around the disease itself. Since mesothelioma is easily misdiagnosed and can be difficult to detect, this can easily lead to lower estimates of both mesothelioma incidence and deaths.

More Work Ahead

In exploring the various studies around mesothelioma incidence and deaths around the world, one sentiment holds true: there is still much work to be done to better prevent, diagnose, and treat the disease.

While asbestos is still actively being used in some parts of the world, and its legacy uses remain elsewhere, the risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-caused diseases will hold true. Countries with a global asbestos trade, like Russia and Brazil, will likely see continued mesothelioma diagnoses for many years, as the long latency period will keep residents’ fate unknown for even 50 years after exposure. Asbestos is still viewed as a miracle mineral in some of these regions, so prevention from its dangers is barely even an afterthought for many who live and work in places like this, such as Asbest, Russia.

While researchers have made progress lately in developing new diagnostic methods, like finding biomarkers in a patient’s blood, and new treatment methods, such as immunotherapy, many of these new developments aren’t available throughout the world. As the study exploring incidence rate in China found, many regions of the world lack experience with this rare cancer and being able to correctly diagnose the disease in the first place.

Beyond mesothelioma, other related diseases like asbestosis or lung cancer caused from exposure have resulted in many deaths over the years. The World Health Organization estimates global asbestos-caused deaths to be around 107,000 each year. Considering the lack of mesothelioma data, these numbers may even be much higher than estimated.

With all these reports and research, there’s no doubt asbestos is a global health issue. Until more countries take action and implement full bans, as well as work on removing legacy uses, these statistics won’t change.