A postmortem case control study of asbestos burden in lungs of malignant mesothelioma cases

S. D. Visonà, B. Bertoglio, C. Favaron, S. Capella, E. Belluso, C. Colosio, S. Villani, T. Ivic-Pavlicic, E. Taioli

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Background: Asbestos lung content is regarded as the most reliable tool for causal attribution of malignant mesothelioma (MM) to previous asbestos exposures. However, there is a lack of studies on asbestos burden in lungs of MM patients in comparison with healthy individuals. This study aims to provide such a comparison, investigating, as well, differences in asbestos lung burden with sex and time trends. Methods: Asbestos lung content has been assessed on formalin-fixed lung fragments using scanning electron microscopy coupled with energy dispersion spectroscopy (SEM–EDS) on individuals deceased from MM (cases) and healthy subjects without any lung disease who died from violent causes (controls) between 2005 and 2023. Results: Asbestos and asbestos bodies (ABs) were found, respectively, in 73.7% and 43.2% of cases and in 28 and 22% of controls; in MM cases the most represented asbestos types were crocidolite and amosite, whereas in controls it was tremolite-actinolite asbestos. The concentration of both asbestos fibers and ABs was statistically significantly higher in MM cases compared to controls. The mean asbestos fibers width was also significantly higher in cases than controls. Males and females with MM showed similar asbestos and ABs concentrations, but females had higher concentrations of chrysotile, and significantly lower fibers width compared to males. Time trends show that MM lung asbestos concentrations decreased starting in 2011. Discussion: The results suggest a correlation between asbestos burden in lungs and MM risk. The different concentration of chrysotile, as well as the different width of asbestos fibers in MM males and females might reflect a sex difference in response of the lung microenvironment to inhaled asbestos. Finally, this study provides the first pathological evidence of the effect of the ban of asbestos use, demonstrating a significant decrease of asbestos lung content after 2011.

Original languageEnglish
Article number875
JournalJournal of Translational Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Amphiboles
  • Asbestos
  • Autopsy
  • Chrysotile
  • Epidemiology
  • Malignant mesothelioma


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