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Asbestos: medical monitoring but
no routine screening

In France, screening for asbestos exposure can lead to financial compensation. But it has no proven effectiveness in improving patients' life expectancy or quality of life.

Banned in France since 1997, asbestos will continue to have negative health consequences for many decades to come on workers exposed to it (metallurgical, construction and shipbuilding workers, prosthodontists, garment workers, etc.).

The most common manifestation of asbestos exposure is benign pleural disease. The appearance of asbestosis, a pulmonary disease sometimes accompanied by severe respiratory failure, depends upon the level of exposure. It can take over 20 years to develop for an average exposure. Asbestos-related cancers often appear much later. The most frequent are mesothelioma (cancer of the lining around the lungs, heart, chest or stomach), which is rapidly fatal, and lung cancer.

There is no known treatment to prevent the development or halt the progress of the various pathologies associated with the build-up of inhaled asbestos fibres in the lungs.

Unfortunately, routine screening for asbestos-related diseases (mesothelioma and lung cancer) has no proven effectiveness in improving the life expectancy or quality of life of those exposed. And it can have negative psychological repercussions.

On the other hand, in France, victims of asbestos identified through screening can benefit from compensation from the country's FIVA and Fcaata funds, as well as specific post-exposure medical monitoring.

©Prescrire August 2009

Source: "La surveillance médicale des personnes exposées à l'amiante" Rev Prescrire 2009; 29 (309): 513-518.

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