A new study of British workers finds that asbestos may cause other serious illnesses in addition to mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that produces tumors in the lining of the lung.
The study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, reports that workers in Great Britain exposed to asbestos in the workplace are more likely to die from heart disease than people in the general population.
Asbestos is recognized as a cause of serious respiratory disease in humans, including asbestosis, a scarring of lung, lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of lining of the lungs and abdomen. But it hasn’t been established whether asbestos exposure is a risk factor in cardiovascular disease.
But it’s well established that inhaling or swallowing asbestos causes inflammation. And inflammatory processes are involved in the development of cardiovascular disease, which includes diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
So researchers, led by Anne-Helen Harding of Britain’s Health and Safety Laboratory, analyzed the presence of cardiovascular disease and death rates among nearly 100,000 asbestos workers between 1971 and 2005. Many of the workers had jobs that involved asbestos removal.
The researchers reported a significantly higher number of deaths from ischemic heart disease and stroke among asbestos workers than the general population. Male asbestos workers were 63 percent more likely to die of a stroke and 39 percent more likely to die of heart disease.
The researchers also observed a correlation between the length of exposure to asbestos and the likelihood of developing ischemic heart disease, a reduced blood supply in the heart muscle. The researchers said the findings provide some evidence that workplace asbestos exposure contributes to heart disease in exposed workers.
Asbestos exposure is the leading cause of work-related deaths in Great Britain, accounting for approximately 4,000 deaths per year, according to the Health and Safety Executive, a British government agency that oversees workplace safety. In the United States, approximately, 2,500 to 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the United States each year and similar numbers of people die of mesothelioma each year. Symptoms of asbestos disease typically take 20 years to 40 years to appear, so workers exposed in 1970s may only recently have begun noticing symptoms such as shortness of breath, pain beneath the ribs and a persistent cough.