Malignant mesothelioma in a cohort of asbestos insulation workers: Clinical presentation, diagnosis, and causes of death

J. Ribak, R. Lilis, Y. Suzuki, L. Penner, I. J. Selikoff

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Malignant mesothelioma has been rare in the general population. In recent decades its incidence has risen dramatically, parallel to the increasing use of asbestos in industry since 1930. Altogether, 17,800 asbestos insulation workers, members of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers (AFL-CIO-CLC) in the United States and Canada, were enrolled for prospective study on 1 January 1967 and followed up to the present. Every death that occurs is investigated by our laboratory. One hundred and seventy five deaths from mesothelioma occurred among the 2221 men who died in 1967-76 and 181 more such deaths in the next eight years. Altogether, 356 workers had died of malignant mesothelioma (pleural or peritoneal) by 1984. Diagnosis of mesothelioma was accepted only after all available clinical, radiological, and pathological material was reviewed by our laboratory and histopathological confirmation by the pathology unit made in each case. One hundred and thirty four workers died of pleural and 222 of peritoneal mesothelioma. Age at onset of exposure, age at onset of the disease, and age at death were similar in both groups of patients. Significant difference was noted only in the time elapsed from onset of exposure to the development of first symptoms, which was longer in the group with peritoneal mesothelioma. Shortness of breath, either new or recently increased, and chest pain were the most frequent presenting symptoms in the group with pleural mesothelioma; abdominal pain and distension were frequent in the patients with peritoneal mesothelioma. Pleural effusion or ascites were found in most patients. The most effective approach to the diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma in these cases was by open lung biopsy; exploratory laparotomy was best for diagnosing peritoneal mesothelioma. Patients with pleural mesothelioma died principally from pulmonary insufficiency whereas those with peritoneal mesothelioma succumbed after a period of pronounced wasting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-187
Number of pages6
JournalBritish Journal of Industrial Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes


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