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Mesothelioma in Minnesota Mine Workers:

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Why is mesothelioma in mine workers a concern?

Mesothelioma is a rare, fatal form of respiratory cancer associated with asbestos exposure. Over the last ten years, we have been periodically reviewing available information about the occurrence of this disease in a group of 72,000 people who worked in the state’s mining industry between the 1930s and 1982. Since our last update, completed in June 2007, an additional case of mesothelioma has been identified in this group of former mine workers, bringing the total to 59 cases.

Do you expect to see more cases of mesothelioma in this group?

Unfortunately, yes. It takes a long time to develop mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos – anywhere from 20 to 50 years. No matter what we do now, some people in this group will continue to develop the illness – because of events that happened many decades ago.

Will you automatically know about any additional cases of mesothelioma?

No. To update our information about mesothelioma in this group, we need to use information from the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System (MCSS), which tracks all newly diagnosed cases of cancer in the state. Information about people diagnosed with mesothelioma must then be linked with information about the 72,000 mine workers, to see if they are part of the mine worker group.

Will you continue to track new mesothelioma cases in the mine workers?

The Minnesota Department of Health is currently supporting a series of studies that will be conducted by the University of Minnesota, in an effort to determine what might have placed the mine workers at risk for mesothelioma. The department plans to compare its information on the miners with data from MCSS again before those studies begin. This will likely lead to new cases being identified.

Any additional updating of the number of cases will occur, as needed, to support the studies being conducted by the University of Minnesota.

Can you draw any conclusions if you see the number of new cases increasing or decreasing over time?

Not necessarily. This is a rare type of cancer, so the number of new cases could fluctuate from one time to the next, as we periodically check for new cases. The fact that the number of new cases has risen or fallen does not mean we’re seeing a trend. The number of new cases could be down one time and up the next – or vice versa.

Updated Friday, June 29, 2012 at 12:13PM