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Occupational asbestos exposure linked to higher risk of heart disease, stroke

Workers exposed to asbestos, already at high risk of developing mesothelioma and lung cancer, are more likely to die of heart disease and stroke than the general population, according to a new study in the British journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.


The research, published online this week, found that men exposed to asbestos on the job were 63 percent more likely to die of cerebrovascular disease — stroke — and 39 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease. For women, the risk of death was 100 percent higher for stroke and 89 percent higher for heart disease than the general population.


The study involved an analysis of health records and survey answers from nearly 99,000 asbestos workers, followed by analysis of 15,557 cases of workers who died between 1971 and 2005. Slightly more than 1,000 died from stroke; 4,000 died of heart disease.


The researchers, from the Mathematical Sciences Unit at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Buxton, Derbyshire, said smoking, a risk factor in both conditions, probably played a role in the deaths.


More than half of the men, 58 percent, and 52 percent of the women were smokers when they underwent their first medical examination; those percentages had fallen only slightly by the time of their last exams.


About 4,000 people die of asbestos-related disease annually in Great Britain, making it the leading cause of work-related death, according the government agency that oversees occupational health and safety issues.


The incidence of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the lining of the lung and abdomen caused by asbestos, has risen dramatically in the United Kingdom since the late 1960s, according to a 2005 study. In 2001, 1,848 people died of the disease, compared to 153 deaths in 1968. The research predicts deaths from mesothelioma will peak at 2,000-2,500 annually sometime between 2011 and 2015.


In the United States, approximately 2,500 to 3,000 people are diagnosed each year with mesothelioma, which has a long latency period — the disease can take 20-30 years or more to exhibit symptoms.