News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Asbestos related cancer deaths set to rise

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 10 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:327
  1. Dobson Roger
  1. Abergavenny

    Deaths from exposure to asbestos are increasing and will peak in the next decade, according to new research. Annual deaths from mesothelioma among men in Britain will rise to between 1950 and 2450 a year between 2011 and 2015, compared with 153 deaths in 1968, say researchers writing in the British Journal of Cancer (published online ahead of print publication) on 25 January (

    They predict that the total number of deaths since 1968 will rise to 90 000 by 2050, with 65 000 of those deaths after 2002.

    In the study, researchers from the Health and Safety Executive, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the Institute of Cancer Research, used Poisson regression analysis to model male mesothelioma deaths from 1968 to 2001 and to predict numbers of male deaths in 2002-50.

    The British mesothelioma register contains all deaths 1968-2001 for which mesothelioma was mentioned on the death certificate, and these data were used to predict the future burden of mesothelioma mortality.

    The report says that mesothelioma is a formerly rare cancer that is almost always caused by asbestos exposure, with 85% of cases in men. The risk is highest in occupations with substantial exposure to asbestos. The disease is rapidly fatal; most affected people die within a year of diagnosis. It has a long latent period between first exposure and diagnosis, which is seldom less than 15 years and often exceeds 60.

    The annual number of mesothelioma deaths in Britain has risen increasingly rapidly, with deaths in 2001 12 times higher than in 1968, says the report. It says that men born in about 1940 have higher death rates than any previous or subsequent birth cohort.

    “Using a statistical modelling approach, mesothelioma mortality in Great Britain is predicted to peak at around 1950-2450 deaths per year some time between 2011 and 2015. Around 90 000 deaths are predicted to occur by 2050, with 65 000 of these occurring from 2002 onwards,” say the authors.

    The report says that after this peak, the number of deaths is expected to decline rapidly. The eventual death rate will depend on the background level and any residual asbestos exposure.

    The report cites other studies which have made similar mortality projections for other countries. In the United States, a peak at about 2000-4 of about 2000 cases has been estimated. In Australia, the incidence of mesothelioma is expected to peak at about 700 cases a year in 2010, and in the Netherlands it has been predicted that pleural mesothelioma will peak at about 2028, with up to 900 cases a year. In France, the number of deaths is predicted to reach a peak at 2200 cases a year some time after 2020.