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World Health Organization says asbestos deaths still rising

More than 92,250 people in 83 countries died of mesothelioma from 1994 to 2008, according to a new analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO).


Half the deaths were recorded in Europe. Mesothelioma, a rare but deadly cancer that attacks the lungs or abdomen, claimed the lives of 17,602 Americans — 18.5 percent of the total — during the time period studied, according to the WHO.


There is no cure for mesothelioma, and treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation have little effect on outcomes, largely because the disease is typically diagnosed in late stages.


At least 80 percent of mesothelioma cases are caused by asbestos exposure. The WHO says the new data “lends support to the call by international organizations to eliminate asbestos-related diseases and discontinue the use of asbestos throughout the world.”


More than three-quarters of all deaths occurred between 2001 and 2008. The disease took a disproportionate toll on men: 72,000, or 78 percent of all deaths recorded.


Moreover, the greatest number of mesothelioma deaths — between 40 and 80 percent — involved pleural mesothelioma, a malignant cancer of the lining of the lung and chest cavity (many reported cases were not identified by type but were assumed to be pleural). Peritoneal mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the abdomen, accounted for less than 5 percent of all deaths.


Industrialized, high-income countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and countries in Western Europe, reported the most deaths. Those countries, the WHO said, were also the largest users of asbestos, although they have since banned or restricted the mineral.


Those countries are also the most likely to report mesothelioma deaths. China, India, Thailand and the Russian Federation, which continue to use asbestos in large quantities, did not provide data for the study. Those and other developing countries are still in the early stages of diagnosing mesothelioma, the report said, and are also prone to misdiagnosis and reporting errors.


The report concluded that while malignant mesothelioma remains a rare form of cancer, the disease is on the rise. The disease burden is still predominantly borne by the developed world, but since asbestos use has recently increased in developing countries, a shift in the disease rates is expected.