Asbestos: towards better recognition of certain cancers as an occupational disease

Posted Sep 19, 2022, 11:06 AMUpdated on Sep 19, 2022 at 11:07

It is now known that asbestos is a major public health problem. But currently, the only cancers subject to an array of occupational diseases linked to exposure to this highly toxic material are bronchopulmonary and pleural cancers (mesothelioma). That could soon change.

An expert report conducted by ANSES, the conclusions of which were published on Monday, shows a causal link between the risk of occurrence of cancers of the larynx and ovaries and occupational exposure to asbestos. This link had already been recognized for several years by various organizations, including the Institute for Health Surveillance – ancestor of the current Public Health France – and, abroad, the International Center for Research on Cancer, linked to the UN. .

“When we interviewed health professionals as part of this expertise, we realized that despite its recognition by the IARC for ten years, the link between cancers of the larynx and ovaries and exposure to asbestos was very little known”, explains Alexandra Papadopoulos, project manager in the Air Risk Assessment Unit and coordinator of the expertise.

Create a “presumption of origin”

ANSES, which had been contacted by several ministries (Health, Labour, etc.) to assess the subject, believes that the creation of an occupational disease table would facilitate the recognition of these cancers, and therefore the compensation of patients, “in allowing the link with occupational exposure to be automatically recognized from the moment the applicant fulfills the conditions defined by the table”.

Such a measure would create a “presumption of origin” for the cancers concerned, which would facilitate the process for patients. “Currently, it is already possible to have these cancers recognized as an occupational disease, but this requires the victim to provide proof of the link between the cancer and their work,” adds Alexandra Papadopoulos.

On the other hand, ANSES did not examine the link between asbestos and other cancers – pharynx, stomach, colorectal -, although it had been asked to do so. She explains this choice by considerations of “resources” and “calendar”.

Asbestos, massively used for several decades during the 20th century in the construction of buildings, has been banned since 1997 in France, because of its dangerous effects on health.

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