Thursday January 28, 2016

Asbestos a potential cancer threat, even 40 to 50 years after exposure

Recent Stats Canada figures show a rise in the numbers of cases and deaths from mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused primarily by workplace asbestos exposure.

Recent Stats Canada figures show a rise in the numbers of cases and deaths from mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused primarily by workplace asbestos exposure. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

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You could be forgiven for thinking asbestos is part of our past, but new statistics show cases of asbestos-related disease are climbing, as exposure from decades past surfaces in a growing number of people.

According to research released by Statistics Canada last week, the number of cases and deaths from mesothelioma have doubled in the last 20 years — and it's continuing to go up. 

Mesothelioma is the aggressive cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs as a result of inhaling asbestos dust and fibres.

Stephen Bornstein, a professor and director of the Safety Net Research Centre at Memorial University, says he isn't surprised at all by these statistics. Even 40 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos, you could still be at risk of developing cancer.

Thanks to better data collection and advances in medical technology, doctors are just getting better at identifying cases of mesothelioma — and we may even expect the number of cases to go up in the future.

This segment was produced by The Current's Julian Uzielli.