January 26, 2016 5:46 pm
Updated: January 26, 2016 9:15 pm

Asbestos: What you need to know

WATCH ABOVE: Asbestos was considered a miracle mineral used in industries around the world from the 1800s to the 1970s, but as Global’s medical contributor Dr. Samir Gupta explains in this week’s On Call, its negative health impacts on humans are still being identified today.


TORONTO — Recent reports continue to show an increasing toll from asbestos-related diseases in this country.

The question is, why are we seeing more cases of asbestos-related cancers and other lung diseases all these years after industrial use has effectively been banned?

Let’s start with some background: asbestos refers to six naturally occurring fibres that have some amazing qualities — they’re strong, flexible and resistant to heat, weather, and most chemicals.

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READ MORE: Asbestos-related cancers on rise: StatsCan

They once called this the “miracle mineral” and it was used in industries around the world from the 1800s all the way up to the ’70s, when it became clear that there was a problem.

And the problem is that when asbestos is manipulated, these tiny fibres, which are completely invisible, get into the air and are breathed into the lungs.

Once they’re in the body, they can cause calcium deposits, thickening, or fluid accumulation in the tissue around the lungs (“pleura”), or scarring of the lungs themselves (“fibrosis”).

In some cases, they can also cause lung cancer or a cancer of the pleura, which is called mesothelioma.

As a lung specialist, mesothelioma is one of the worst diseases that I see – it basically encases the lungs so that it becomes increasingly difficult to breathe in.

Even with the best treatments, more than half of all patients die within a year of diagnosis.

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As noted, cases of mesothelioma increase every year. There were 560 new cases in 2012 compared to only 276 cases recorded in 1992.

The reason for that is that it takes anywhere from 15 to 40 years after exposure for people to develop disease.

So, what we’re actually seeing now is the effect of workplace exposures that occurred in the ’70s and ’80s.

Because of this delay, many of the patients that I see with these conditions don’t even remember being exposed to asbestos, which makes it that much more challenging to make the diagnosis.

Although industrial uses have been banned, there is still a lot of asbestos around.

Buildings built before 1990 may have it in ceiling and floor tiles, insulation, and even cement.

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Accordingly, many of us live or work in old buildings with asbestos in the walls.

Should we be worried? As long as the asbestos remains untouched, it doesn’t pose a danger.

The danger occurs when any of that asbestos is disrupted, which usually happens with renovations or demolition.

So if you live in an older house and are planning a home renovation, make sure to have your home checked for asbestos, and if you do have it, hire a professional to remove it. It may save your life.

For more tips, you can call the Lung Health Information Line at 1–888–344–LUNG (5864).

© 2016 Shaw Media

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