July 22, 2004 -- Asbestos-related deaths have increased fourfold in the past three decades, according to a new CDC report.
There are no early symptoms of asbestosis or other lung diseases, known medically as pneumoconiosis. But in advanced stages, they can cause disability and premature death since there is no effective treatment.
The CDC report -- which documents cases from 1968 to 2000 -- shows an overall decrease in coal miner's and other lung diseases during that time, except for asbestosis.
Between 1982 and 2000, death rates from coal workers' lung disease dropped by 36% -- likely due to a decline in the coal mining industry -- and death rates from silicosis and other pneumoconiosis diseases dropped by 70%.
However, death rates from asbestos exposure increased steadily during that period:
- Blacks had a 448% increase; whites had a 342% increase.
- Most deaths were among people over age 45.
- The coastal states -- where asbestos was frequently used in shipbuilding -- had the greatest increases.
Women's lung disease-related death rates were substantially lower than men's, but asbestos-related deaths were still high.
"Because asbestosis [death] peaks 40-45 years after initial exposure to asbestos, this upward trend reflects past exposure to asbestos fibers," states the report.
Asbestos was a popular construction material during and after World War II, but use was halted in the late 1980s when the health risks became obvious.
Nevertheless, asbestos can be found in some buildings today and is a potential risk, the report states.
In addition to pneumoconiosis, asbestos has been linked to mesothelioma, a difficult-to-treat lung cancer. Symptoms don't usually appear until the cancer is very advanced, and most patients survive only nine to 13 months after diagnosis. But new treatments have recently been approved for mesothelioma and may help prolong survival in these patients.