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Do patterns of past asbestos use and production reflect current geographic variations of cancer risk?: mesothelioma in Ontario and British Columbia, Canada.

PURPOSE: Canada was a major global asbestos producer and consumer. Geographic patterns of Canadian asbestos use and mesothelioma, a highly fatal cancer linked to asbestos exposure, have not been previously reported. This study summarized key trends in mesothelioma incidence by geography and time in two Canadian provinces, Ontario and British Columbia (BC), and explored how past workforce characteristics and geographic trends in asbestos production and use may shape variations in regional rates of mesothelioma.

METHODS: We report trends in mesothelioma incidence (1993-2016) for Ontario and British Columbia using population-based incidence data that were age-standardized to the 2011 Canadian population. Historical records of asbestos production and use were analyzed to geo-locate industrial point sources of asbestos in Ontario and BC. The prevalence of occupations in regions with the highest and lowest rates of mesothelioma in Ontario and BC were calculated using labor force statistics from the 1981 Canadian Census.

RESULTS: Regional mesothelioma rates varied in both provinces over time; more census divisions in both Ontario and BC registered mesothelioma rates in the highest quintile of incidences during the period 2009 to 2016 than in any prior period examined. Certain occupations such as construction trades workers were more likely to be overrepresented in regions with high mesothelioma rates.

CONCLUSION: This work explored how studying asbestos exposure and mesothelioma incidence at small-scale geographies could direct cancer surveillance and research to more targeted areas. Findings indicated that regional variations in mesothelioma could signal important differences in past occupational and potentially environmental exposures.

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