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Ex-carpenters have highest risk of asbestos-linked cancer

Thursday March 5th, 2009

Baby-boomers who became carpenters are facing an epidemic of cancer caused by asbestos, researchers have warned.

Cancer experts have found that the risk of lung cancer is significantly higher for men born in the 1940s who worked as carpenters.

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung caused by asbestos. Researchers from Cancer Research UK examined risk factors among more than 600 mesothelioma patients and 1,400 healthy people.

They found that men born in the 1940s who worked as carpenters for more than ten years before the age of 30 have a one in 17 lifetime risk, compared with one in 50 for plumbers, electricians and decorators, and one in 125 for other construction workers. The risk for the rest of the UK population is about one in 1,000.

Findings are published in the British Journal of Cancer. The experts report that for every case of mesothelioma, asbestos also causes about one case of lung cancer, so "the overall risk of asbestos-related cancer for this particular group of carpenters is about one in ten".

Lead researcher, Professor Julian Peto, said: "The UK has the highest death rate from mesothelioma in the world. The risk is highest in people who were exposed to asbestos before age 30. By getting information on all the jobs people had ever done we have shown that the risk in some occupations, particularly in the building industry, is higher than we previously thought."

He added that new regulations introduced in 1970 reduced exposure to asbestos in factories, but heavy exposure to the much larger workforce in construction and various other industries continued.

Steve Coldrick of the UK's Health and Safety Executive commented: "We must continue to remember that asbestos maintained in good condition on-site is not a threat unless it's disturbed and the fibres become airborne."

Peto, J. et al. Occupational, domestic and environmental mesothelioma risk in the British population: a case-control study. The British Journal of Cancer, in press.

Tags: UK News | Menís Health | Cancer

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