Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine   Official publication of Indian Association of  0ccupational  Health  
 Print this page Email this page   Small font sizeDefault font sizeIncrease font size
 Users Online:983

  IAOH | Subscription | e-Alerts | Feedback | Login 

Home About us Current Issue Archives Search Instructions
   Next article
   Previous article 
   Table of Contents
    Similar in PUBMED
     Search Pubmed for
     Search in Google Scholar for
   Related articles
    Article in PDF (39 KB)
    Citation Manager
    Access Statistics
    Reader Comments
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

   Materials and Me...
   Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded284    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 12    

Recommend this journal


Year : 2009  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 80-83

Malignant pleural mesothelioma in Italy

Center for the Study of Environmental Cancer, Italian League against Cancer, Hospital of Monfalcone, 34074 Monfalcone, Italy

Date of Web Publication20-Aug-2009

Correspondence Address:
Claudio Bianchi
Center for the Study of Environmental Cancer, Italian League against Cancer, Hospital of Monfalcone, 34074 Monfalcone
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5278.55124

Rights and Permissions



This study reviews a series of 811 malignant pleural mesothelioma cases, diagnosed at hospitals in Trieste and Monfalcone districts of north eastern Italy, a narrow coastal strip with a population of about three lakh, in the period 1968-2008. The diagnosis was based on histological examination in 801 cases, and cytological findings in 10. Necropsy was performed in 610 cases. Occupational histories were obtained directly from the patients or their relatives through personal or telephone interviews. Routine lung sections were examined for asbestos bodies in 500 cases. In 143 cases asbestos bodies were isolated and counted by chemical digestion of the lung tissue using the Smith-Naylor method. The series included 717 men and 94 women aged between 32 and 93 years (mean 69.2 years). Detailed occupational data was obtained for 732 cases.
The majority of patients had marine jobs - shipbuilding (449 cases), maritime trades (56 cases), and port activities (39 cases). The nature of work of other patients included a variety of occupations, with non-shipbuilding industries being the most common. Thirty-four women cleaned the work clothes of family members occupationally exposed and hence had a history of asbestos exposure at home. Most of the patients had their first exposure to asbestos before 1960. The latency period ranged between 13 and 73 years (mean 48.2). Latency period among insulators and dock workers were shorter than other categories. Asbestos bodies were detected on routine lung sections in 343 cases (68.6%). Lung asbestos body burdens after isolation ranged between two to 10 millions bodies per gram of dried tissue. Despite some limitations in the use of asbestos in this area since the 1970s, the incidence of tumor remained high during the last years.

Keywords: Asbestos, latency periods, mesothelioma, necropsy, pleura, shipbuilding

How to cite this article:
Bianchi C, Bianchi T. Malignant pleural mesothelioma in Italy. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2009;13:80-3

How to cite this URL:
Bianchi C, Bianchi T. Malignant pleural mesothelioma in Italy. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2009 [cited 2022 Aug 17];13:80-3. Available from:

  Introduction Top

In the past decades the incidence of malignant mesothelioma has markedly increased in various countries. [1] The geographic distribution of mesothelioma shows that the incidence rates are highest in areas with high shipbuilding activity or with intense asbestos-cement production. [1],[2] At a national level, data points to a relationship between mesothelioma mortality and asbestos consumption some decades ago. [3],[4],[5]

Studies which began in 1971 showed a high incidence of mesothelioma in the Trieste-Monfalcone area, on the border with Slovenia and large shipyards of the region were identified as the main source of mesothelioma epidemic. [6],[7],[8],[9],[10],[11] This investigation has been conducted to delineate the principal features of pleural mesothelioma in the above area over a long period.

  Materials and Methods Top

The cases included in the study were diagnosed at hospitals of Trieste in the period 1968-2008 and at the hospital of Monfalcone in the period Oct 1979-2008. Pathological diagnosis was based on histological examinations in 801 cases and cytological findings in 10 cases. In 610 cases the diagnosis was confirmed or performed at necropsy.

Occupational data was collected directly from the patients or their relatives through personal or telephone interviews. In addition, enquiries were conducted to reconstruct the characteristics of exposure to asbestos in the area during the past decades. For this purpose, a number of people employed in different branches in the past in Trieste and Monfalcone were interviewed.

Routine lung sections were examined for asbestos bodies in 500 cases. Isolation and quantization of asbestos bodies were performed in 143 cases, after chemical digestion of lung tissue, using the Smith-Naylor method. [12]

  Results Top

The study included 717 men, aged between 32 and 93 years (mean 68.7, median 69.0), and 94 women aged between 40 and 93 years (mean 73.2, median 73.0) [Table 1]. The patients had worked in a variety of workplaces, most frequently in shipyards [Table 2]. In 79 cases (57 men and 22 women), occupational data was insufficient. Thirty-four women reported history of domestic exposure to asbestos. They had cleaned the work clothes of their family members who had been occupationally exposed. In cases classified as 'other,' the patients had been employed in a wide range of branches including railways, construction industry, pastry and bakery, army and police, municipal water department. Unusual occupations included telephone technician, movie projectionist, mattress maker, auto mechanic, fireman, asbestos company agent, etc. Environmental exposure to asbestos was retained as the cause of mesothelioma in two cases, and suspected in two. In one case the patient had been treated with radiotherapy for Hodgkin's disease, 34 years ago.

About 80% of the patients had their first exposure before 1960 [Table 3]. The duration of exposure to asbestos was calculated in 504 cases; 73% had been exposed for 20 years or more [Table 4]. The latency periods, defined as time intervals elapsed between first exposure to asbestos and diagnosis of mesothelioma, were calculated in 552 cases; in 77% of cases latency periods were longer than 40 years [Table 5]. Latency periods varied markedly from an occupational group to another [Table 6].

Asbestos bodies were detected on routine lung sections in 343 cases (68.6%). The burden of asbestos bodies after isolation ranged from two bodies to about 10 million per gram of dry tissue [Table 7].

  Discussion Top

A singular feature of this mesothelioma series is the high proportion of cases of diagnosis confirmed at necropsy. This offers a more reliable basis to the findings of the study. Although mesothelioma has been investigated in depth during the last decades, the diagnosis of this tumor often remains difficult. [13],[14] In addition, necropsy furnishes precious information about asbestos exposure the person had. This is particularly relevant since the occupational history of a patient with mesothelioma is sometimes difficult to interpret. Given the long latency periods of the tumor, occupational data regards even the remote past. Sometimes the factory in which the patient had worked has ceased its activity since decades; the reconstruction of such distant work conditions becomes a question of industrial archaeology.

In the Trieste-Monfalcone area, pleural mesothelioma is a condition mainly affecting men. Regarding age, 96% of the patients were between 50 and 89 years, and 66% between 60 and 79.

Working in shipyards emerged as the occupation for most people with pleural mesothelioma in the study area. Numerous studies conducted in Europe, USA and Japan point to the strong relationship between shipbuilding and mesothelioma. [10],[15],[16],[17],[18],[19],[20],[21],[22],[23],[24],[25] The high incidence of mesothelioma among shipyard workers is considered the effect of asbestos exposure occurred in the shipyards. The relevance of such an exposure has been documented by several studies. [25],[26] As far as north eastern Italy is concerned, a series of investigations carried out at Monfalcone Hospital in the period October 1979-September 1998 explored markers of asbestos exposure (pleural plaques, lung asbestos bodies) in a series of 3,640 consecutive necropsies. [26] Lifetime occupational data for 1,277 patients was obtained. The shipyard workers were characterized by very high prevalence of pleural plaques (86.7%), high prevalence of asbestos bodies on routine lung sections (35.3%), and high amounts of lung asbestos bodies after isolation. The data gathered indicates that, asbestos exposure was an ubiquitous and heavy occurrence in shipyards of the area.

Mesothelioma was first identified among shipyard workers in Trieste in 1972-73. [6],[7] However, a retrospective examination of necropsy records carried out at the Trieste Hospital in the period 1944-1966 revealed some cases diagnosed in 1940s and 1950s. [27] In this context it has to be remembered that asbestos-related mesothelioma has been observed in various countries since 1936. [28]

Maritime trade is an occupational branch encountered in various cases of the present mesothelioma series. As a consequence of large asbestos use in shipbuilding seamen are at risk for mesothelioma. [29],[30] Seafarers in merchant marine as well as people employed in the navy are at risk. [29] A series of analyses of board maritime shipping in the US, in the period 1978-1992, revealed extremely low concentrations of asbestos fibers. [30] However, this fact does not efface the bulk of epidemiological evidence indicating a link between maritime trade and mesothelioma.

Increase in number of pleural mesothelioma cases was recently observed in Trieste among port workers, [31] with patients generally employed in loading-unloading of a variety of goods, including asbestos. In the period 1960-1998, over five lakh tons of asbestos passed through the port of Trieste [32] by sea traffic (arrivals plus departures) ranging between 558 and 18,882 tons per year in the period 1960-1996. Until late 1970s, and partly even in 1980s, asbestos passing through the Trieste port was transported using jute or paper sacks. Such sacks often broke, resulting in high dustiness. Enquiries by the Occupational Medicine Unit of the Local Health Authority, in 1977, documented the severity of the pollution at Trieste port.

Seventy-three people had worked in various industries, including non-shipbuilding machinery, non-asbestos textile, petrochemical, iron work, etc. Thirty-four women had been exposed to asbestos at home. They had cleaned the work clothes of their family members employed in workplaces polluted by asbestos, mainly the shipyards.

The patients, included in the category 'other', represented a heterogeneous group of particular interest. In fact, many of these occupations have been underestimated in the past as possible sources of asbestos exposure and other remain unrecognized as work at risk for asbestos disease. Working as telephone technician, [33] or as movie projectionist are examples of such scarcely considered occupations.

About 80% of the patients in the present series had their first exposure before 1960. In nearly three-fourth of the cases, the duration of exposure was 20 years or more; half the patients, for whom sufficiently detailed data were available, had been exposed for 30-40 years or more. This point deserves attention. It is generally strongly emphasized that mesothelioma may develop after very short exposures. If this is true, it is also true that majority of the people with mesothelioma have a history of long exposure.

As far as latency periods are concerned, the present findings differ markedly from those generally reported in literature. We found latency periods of 40 years or more in three-fourth of the cases although 20-40 years were mostly quoted. Similar findings have also been observed in other series. [34] Data obtained (including data from present study) suggests an inverse relationship between intensity of exposure to asbestos and length of the latency periods. [34],[35],[36],[37] Longer latency period is seen after environmental exposure than after occupational exposure, [38],[39] supporting the above idea. The intensity of exposure is generally lower in the former than in the latter.

In the study area, limitations in use of asbestos began in the second half 1970s. A further reduction occurred in the shipyards of the area in 1980s. A total ban was imposed in Italy in 1992. This means that during the last three decades, the global dose workers had been lower in comparison with previous decades. Nevertheless, mesothelioma epidemic did not show signs of abatement during the last years. [40],[41],[42] Mesothelioma continues to represent a major problem in the area. Screening of mesothelioma among asbestos exposed people has recently been tried in Monfalcone, [43] but the results have not been encouraging.

  References Top

1.Bianchi C, Bianchi T. Malignant mesothelioma: Global incidence and relationship with asbestos. Ind Health 2007;45:379-87.  Back to cited text no. 1      
2.Mc Elvenny DM, Darnton AJ, Price MJ, Hodgson JT. Mesothelioma mortality in Great Britain from 1968 to 2001. Occup Med 2005;55:79-87.  Back to cited text no. 2      
3.Tossavainen A. Global use of asbestos and the incidence of mesothelioma. Int J Occup Environ Health 2004;10:22-5.  Back to cited text no. 3      
4.Lin RT, Takahashi K, Karjalainen A, Hoshuyama T, Wilson D, Kameda T, et al. Ecological association between asbestos-related diseases and historical asbestos consumption: An international analysis. Lancet 2007;369:844-9.  Back to cited text no. 4      
5.Nishikawa K, Takahashi K, Karjalainen A, Wen CP, Furuya S, Hoshuyama T, . Recent mortality from pleural mesothelioma, historical patterns of asbestos use, and adoption of bans: A global assessment. Environ Health Perspect 2008;116:1675-80.  Back to cited text no. 5      
6.Bianchi C. Asbestosis and diffuse peritoneal mesothelioma (in Italian). Min Med 1972;63:2826-33.  Back to cited text no. 6      
7.Bianchi C, Di Bonito L, Grandi G, Furlan L. Occupational exposure to asbestos in 20 cases of diffuse pleural mesothelioma (in Italian). Min Med 1973;64:1724-7.  Back to cited text no. 7      
8.Giarelli L, Bianchi C, Grandi G. Malignant mesothelioma of the pleura in Trieste, Italy. Am J Ind Med 1992;22:521-30.  Back to cited text no. 8      
9.Bianchi C, Brollo A, Ramani L, Zuch C. Asbestos-related mesothelioma in Monfalcone, Italy. Am J Ind Med 1993;24:149-60.  Back to cited text no. 9      
10.Bianchi C, Brollo A, Ramani L, Bianchi T, Giarelli L. Asbestos exposure in malignant mesothelioma of the pleura:a survey of 557 cases. Ind Health 2001;39:161-7.  Back to cited text no. 10      
11.Bianchi C, Brollo A, Ramani L, Bianchi T. Malignant mesothelioma of the pleura in Monfalcone, Italy: a 23-year monitoring in an area at high incidence. Eur J Oncol Library 2003;3:49-58.  Back to cited text no. 11      
12.Smith NJ, Naylor B. A method for extracting ferruginous bodies from sputum and pulmonary tissue. Am J Clin Pathol 1972;58:250-4.  Back to cited text no. 12      
13.Addis B, Roche H. Problems in mesothelioma diagnosis. Histopathology 2009;54:55-68.  Back to cited text no. 13      
14.Takeshima Y, Inai K, Amatya VJ, Gemba K, Aoe K, Fujimoto N, et al. Accuracy of pathological diagnosis of mesothelioma cases in Japan: clinicopathological analysis of 382 cases. Lung Cancer 2009, Epub ahead of print.  Back to cited text no. 14      
15.Mc Caughey WT, Wade OL, Elmes PC. Exposure to asbestos dust and diffuse pleural mesotheliomas (letter). Br Med J 1962;2:1397.  Back to cited text no. 15      
16.Elmes PC, Mc Caughey WT, Wade OL. Diffuse mesothelioma of the pleura and asbestos. Br Med J 1965;1:350-3.  Back to cited text no. 16      
17.Planteydt HT. Mésothéliomes et corps asbestosiques dans l'expectoration des travailleurs d'un chantier naval. Poumon Cœur 1968;25:545-8.  Back to cited text no. 17      
18.Stumphius J, Meyers PB. Asbestos bodies and mesothelioma. Ann Occup Hyg 1968;11:283-93.  Back to cited text no. 18 Lajartre M, Cornet E, Corroler J, Moigneteau CR, Dupon H, Rembeaux A, et al. Étude clinique et professionnelle de 54 mésothéliomes pleuraux diffus. Rev Fr Mal Respir 1976;4:63-74.  Back to cited text no. 19      
20.Puntoni R, Valerio F, Santi L. Pleural mesothelioma among workers of the Genoa port (in Italian). Tumori 1976;62:205-10.  Back to cited text no. 20      
21.McDonald JC, McDonald AD. Epidemiology of mesothelioma from estimated incidence. Prev Med 1977;6:426-46.  Back to cited text no. 21      
22.Tagnon I, Blot WJ, Strube RB, Day NE, Morris LE, Peace BB, et al. Mesothelioma associated with the shipbuilding industry in coastal Virginia. Cancer Res 1980;40:3875-9.  Back to cited text no. 22      
23.Jemal A, Grauman D, Devesa S. Recent geographic patterns of lung cancer and mesothelioma mortality rates in 49 shipyard counties in the United States, 1970-94. Am J Ind Med 2000;37:512-21.  Back to cited text no. 23      
24.Puntoni R, Merlo F, Borsa L, Reggiardo G, Garrone E, Ceppi M. A historical cohort mortality study among shipyard workers in Genoa, Italy. Am J Ind Med 2001;40:363-70.  Back to cited text no. 24      
25.Hollins DM, Paustenbach DJ, Clark K, Mangold CA. A visual historical review of exposure to asbestos at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (1962-1972). J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev 2009;12:124-56.  Back to cited text no. 25      
26.Bianchi C, Brollo A, Ramani L. Asbestos exposure in a shipyard area, North-eastern Italy. Ind Health 2000;38:301-8.  Back to cited text no. 26      
27.Bianchi C, Bianchi T, Giarelli L. Malignant mesothelioma in the Province of Trieste (1944-1966). Premonitory signs of the epidemic (in Italian). Salute and Prevenzione 2003;63:23.  Back to cited text no. 27      
28.Greenberg M. A short history of malignant mesothelioma and asbestos before 1960. Eur J Oncol 2001;6:355-9.  Back to cited text no. 28      
29.Bianchi C, Bianchi T, Grandi G. Malignant mesothelioma of the pleura among seafarers. Med Lav 2005;96:490-5.  Back to cited text no. 29      
30.Murbach DM, Madl AK, Unice KM, Knutsen JS, Chapman PS, Brown JL, et al. Airborne concentrations of asbestos onboard maritime shipping vessels (1978-1992). Ann Occup Hyg 2008;52:267-79.  Back to cited text no. 30      
31.Bianchi C, Bianchi T, Nicotra M, Grandi G. Asbestos-related pleural mesothelioma among the workers of the Trieste port (in Italian). Eur J Oncol 2005;10:287-90.  Back to cited text no. 31      
32.Bianchi C, Bianchi T. Asbestos traffic in the Mediterranean region: the port of Trieste, Italy. In Paglietti F, Damiani F, Malinconico S, De Simone P. European Conference on Asbestos Risks and Management, Rome, 4-6 December 2006. Roma, ISPESL 2006. p. 211-4.  Back to cited text no. 32      
33.Bianchi C, Bianchi T. Malignant mesothelioma in telephone workers (letter). J Occup Environ Med 2007;49:359.  Back to cited text no. 33      
34.Hilliard AK, Lovett JK, McGavin CR. The rise and fall in incidence of malignant mesothelioma from a British naval dockyard, 1979-1999. Occup Med 2003;53:209-12.  Back to cited text no. 34      
35.Bianchi C, Giarelli L, Grandi G, Brollo A, Ramani L, Zuch C. Latency periods in asbestos-related mesothelioma of the pleura. Eur J Cancer Prev 1997;6:162-6.  Back to cited text no. 35      
36.Bianchi C, Ramani L, Bianchi T. Latency periods in asbestos-related mesothelioma of the pleura (abstract). Med Lav 2002;93:385.  Back to cited text no. 36      
37.Bianchi C, Bianchi T, Tommasi M. Long latency periods in asbestos-related mesothelioma of the pleura. Eur J Oncol 2007;12:189-95.  Back to cited text no. 37      
38.Marinaccio A, Binazzi A, Cauzillo G, Cavone D, De Zotti R, Ferrante P, et al. Analysis of latency time and its determinants in asbestos related malignant mesothelioma cases of the Italian register. Eur J Cancer 2007;43:2722-8.  Back to cited text no. 38      
39.Reid A, Berry G, Heyworth J, de Klerk NH, Musk AW. Predicted mortality from malignant mesothelioma among women exposed to blue asbestos at Wittenoom, Western Australia. Occup Environ Med 2009;66:169-74.  Back to cited text no. 39      
40.Bianchi C, Bianchi T, Tommasi M. Mesothelioma of the pleura in the Province of Trieste (in Italian). Med Lav 2007;98:374-80.  Back to cited text no. 40      
41.Bianchi C, Bianchi T, Tommasi M. Malignant mesothelioma of the pleura in the Province of Trieste, Italy, 2001-2007 (abstract). In: The 9th international conference of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group, Amsterdam, 25-27 September 2008. p. 202.  Back to cited text no. 41      
42.Registro Tumori del Friuli Venezia Giulia Available from: provide date of citation  Back to cited text no. 42      
43.Fasola G, Belvedere O, Aita M, Zanin T, Follador A, Cassetti P, et al. Low-dose computed tomography screening for lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma in an asbestos-exposed population: baseline results of a prospective, nonrandomized feasibility trial - An Alpe-Adria Thoracic Oncology Multidisciplinary Group Study (ATOM 002). Oncologist 2007;12:1215-24.  Back to cited text no. 43      


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6], [Table 7]

This article has been cited by
1 Lung Asbestos Fibre Burden and Pleural Mesothelioma in Women with Non-occupational Exposure
Pietro Gino Barbieri, Anna Somigliana, Yao Chen, Dario Consonni, Roberto Vignola, Luigi Finotto
Annals of Work Exposures and Health. 2020; 64(3): 297
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
2 Perspectives on refractory ceramic fiber (RCF) carcinogenicity: comparisons with other fibers*
Helmut Greim,Mark J. Utell,L. Daniel Maxim,Ron Niebo
Inhalation Toxicology. 2014; : 1
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
3 Comment on ‘The latency period of mesothelioma among a cohort of British asbestos workers (1978–2005)’: methodological problems with case-only survival analysis
D Consonni,F Barone-Adesi,C Mensi
British Journal of Cancer. 2014;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
4 Evaluation of take home (para-occupational) exposure to asbestos and disease: a review of the literature
Ellen P. Donovan,Brooke L. Donovan,Meg A. McKinley,Dallas M. Cowan,Dennis J. Paustenbach
Critical Reviews in Toxicology. 2012; 42(9): 703
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
5 Evaluation of take home (para-occupational) exposure to asbestos and disease: A review of the literature
Donovan, E.P. and Donovan, B.L. and McKinley, M.A. and Cowan, D.M. and Paustenbach, D.J.
Critical Reviews in Toxicology. 2012; 42(9): 703-731
6 Soluble mesothelin-related peptides levels in patients with malignant mesothelioma
Franko, A., Dolzan, V., Kovac, V., Arneric, N., Dodic-Fikfak, M.
Disease Markers. 2012; 32(2): 123-131
7 Mesothelioma among shipyard workers in Monfalcone, Italy
Bianchi, C. and Bianchi, T.
Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2012; 16(3): 119-123
8 Exposure to asbestos: Correlation between blood levels of mesothelin and frequency of micronuclei in peripheral blood lymphocytes
Marini, V., Michelazzi, L., Cioé, A., Fucile, C., Spigno, F., Robbiano, L.
Mutation Research - Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis. 2011; 721(1): 114-117
9 Malignant mesothelioma of the pleura in nonagenarian patients
Bianchi, C., Bianchi, T., Bucconi, S.
Tumori. 2011; 97(2): 156-159
10 Exposure to asbestos: Correlation between blood levels of mesothelin and frequency of micronuclei in peripheral blood lymphocytes
Valeria Marini,Luigi Michelazzi,Alex Cioé,Carmen Fucile,Fabio Spigno,Luigi Robbiano
Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis. 2011; 721(1): 114
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
11 Rising mesothelioma incidence on eastern Adriatic coast
Bianchi, C. and Bianchi, T.
European Journal of Oncology. 2010; 15(2): 105-109
12 Malignant pleural mesothelioma in patients hospitalised at the Clinical Hospital Centre Rijeka between 1989 and 2008 [Maligni mezoteliom pleure u bolesnika liječenih u Kliničkome Bolničkom Centru Rijeka tijekom 1989.-2008. Godine]
Krička, O. and Matanić Lender, D. and Barković, I. and Flego, V. and Kupanovac, Z. and Bulat Kardum, L.
Arhiv za Higijenu Rada i Toksikologiju. 2009; 60(SUPPL.): 41-43


Print this article  Email this article
Previous article Next article