Cases of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) may be caused by exposure to asbestos, as suggested by a recent study conducted at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, and presented at the European Respiratory Society’s conference. The new mortality data about IPF, asbestosis, and mesothelioma may offer new information for how to alter the current treatments for IPF patients, since people with a history of asbestos exposure are not currently able to access new treatments for IPF.
The research revealed that there are national and regional correlations between IPF, asbestosis, and mesothelioma, which led the scientists to hypothesize that there may be cases of IPF related to unknown exposure to asbestos. High rates of IPF deaths were registered in the northwest and southeast regions of England — regions known for shipyard work and consequent potential exposure to asbestos dust.
Since there are similarities between IPF and asbestosis, both of which are distinguished by patients’ known exposure to asbestos, if asbestos exposure had been known in the cases reported and analyzed in the study, it is likely that the patients would have been diagnosed with and treated for asbestosis instead of IPF.
“The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that a proportion of IPF cases are likely to be caused by unknown exposure to asbestos. More research is needed in this area, particularly as patients known to have asbestos exposure are not currently considered to be candidates for new treatments for IPF and this may be inappropriate,” stated the lead researcher Dr. Carl Reynolds.
Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by exposure to asbestos. Both the disease’s symptoms and the way it looks may be easily confused with IPF. However, the difference between the two diseases is simply the exposure the substance. As a result, people diagnosed with asbestosis are not currently eligible for new treatments for IPF, even though these treatments are meant for the treatment of what is essentially an identical disease — just caused by different factors.
The research team found the correlation between the cases of IPF and the unknown exposure to asbestos, as the scientists analyzed mortality rates for IPF, asbestosis, and mesothelioma across England and Wales, from the Office of National Statistics for the period between 1974 and 2012, which was divided by age, sex and region.