Rising Pulmonary Fibrosis Deaths in UK May Be Result of Asbestos Exposure, Study Says

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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asbestos and IPF

In a recent study titled “UK asbestos imports and mortality due to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis,” researchers highlighted the need for more accurate and specific methods of diagnosing and separating asbestosis from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The study was published in the journal Occupational Medicine.

The World Health Organization considers a history of asbestos usage and exposure to be a significant risk factor for mortality due to mesothelioma and asbestosis (a chronic interstitial lung disease that may develop in people exposed to asbestos for prolonged periods). In the United Kingdom, mortality due to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis has sharply increased in the last decades, for reasons that largely remain elusive. Interestingly, this increase is associated with a similar trend in an established asbestos-related disease, mesothelioma.

By comparing the mortality rates between asbestosis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, the research team investigated the relationship between mortality and national asbestos imports. Researchers also analyzed the data for mesothelioma deaths in England and Wales, and the history of U.K. asbestos imports. They analyzed each set of data separately and how it correlated with asbestos imports 48 years earlier.

Researchers observed a significant linear relationship between reported deaths of both men and women each year and historic U.K. asbestos imports. This linear relation was detected in mesothelioma mortality in both genders. This trend, however, was only observed in males due to asbestosis (no significant rise in female asbestosis mortality was observed during the period analyzed, as well as no significant association with asbestos imports).

Moreover, the team observed that mortality in men and women due to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis was increasing in parallel with that of mesothelioma. This number also significantly correlated with previous U.K. asbestos imports.

In conclusion, the results were in agreement with the hypothesis that a proportion of the increase in pulmonary fibrosis, currently diagnosed as idiopathic, may be associated with a previous exposure to asbestos. Therefore, a significant proportion of asbestosis is potentially being misclassified as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and increased effort is needed for a differential diagnosis of the conditions.