Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Carpenters 'face asbestos death'

Carpenter at work
Carpenters seem to be particularly vulnerable

One in 17 UK carpenters born in the 1940s will die of the asbestos-related lung cancer mesothelioma, researchers predict.

They also calculated the deadly disease would strike one in 50 plumbers, electricians and decorators and one in 125 other construction workers.

The UK mesothelioma death rate is now the highest in the world, with 1,749 deaths in men in 2005.

The study appears in the British Journal of Cancer.

The researchers calculated the lifetime risk of the disease among workers exposed to asbestos for more than a decade before the age of 30.

Their findings were based on interviews with more than 600 patients with mesothelioma and 1,400 healthy people.

Over all, the projected lifetime risk of fatal meothelioma in all British men born in the 1940s was about one in 170.

A cancer of mesothelial cells which cover the outer surface of the lungs and, less commonly, the abdomen
Most cases caused by exposure to asbestos
The tiny fibres which make up asbestos are breathed in and irritate the lining of the lung, causing cell damage
Alternatively, the fibres may be coughed up and swallowed, leading to damage to the abdomen
For every case of mesothelioma, asbestos also causes about one case of lung cancer, so the overall risk of asbestos-related cancer for carpenters born in the 1940s was about one in 10.

The authors also found that around two-thirds of all British men and a quarter of women had worked in jobs involving potential asbestos exposure at some time in their lives.

There was also a small increased risk in those who had lived with someone who had been exposed to asbestos.

More than 2,100 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the UK each year.

Lead researcher Professor Julian Peto, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Institute of Cancer Research, 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.

"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 Health and Safety Executive's disease reduction programme, said: "We must continue to remember that asbestos maintained in good condition onsite is not a threat unless it's disturbed and the fibres become airborne.

"Also, other potential 'risk factors' such as residence in certain types of housing, living near industrial sites, or engagement in DIY activity, were not associated with an increased risk."

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of information, said: "We now need to ensure that accurate information for workers and regulation of the asbestos still in buildings keeps pace with what we've learned."

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