While we now all know the dangers of asbestos, for many years it was seen as a miracle material and installed in homes across the country. That’s the reason why Australia now has the highest incidence of malignant mesothelioma per capita in the world, with hundreds of deaths attributed to the disease each year, and many people claiming pay outs for asbestos exposure that lead to the disease.
In 2008 alone, 661 new cases of mesothelioma were diagnosed, and this is expected to increase 79% by 2020. Although asbestos was banned in Australia in 2003, the effects of exposure often aren’t apparent for 20 to 40 years, meaning new cases could still be diagnosed for decades to come, meaning asbestos testing is as relevant and as important as ever.
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Deaths from mesothelioma
2015 saw 626 deaths related to mesothelioma in Australia alone. This means it’s almost on par with deaths from ovarian cancer or multiple myeloma. Australia has the second highest death rate for mesothelioma in the world, second only to the United Kingdom, and more than 10,000 people have died from the disease since the mid-1980s.
What is mesothelioma?
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of mesothelioma, and accounts for about 94% of cases. When people are exposed to asbestos, the fibres are lodged in the thin membrane lining the chest walls and lungs, and decades later this can cause the cancer known as mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is usually fatal, although if it’s caught early there are treatments that can be offered to prolong life or slow its progress. That’s why it’s important for those who have been exposed to asbestos to get regular check-ups, and look for symptoms such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest or lower back pain
- Persistent coughs
- Losing weight without trying
- Feeling like there’s a lump in your throat
Doctors who aren’t made aware of asbestos exposure can often misdiagnose the early symptoms of mesothelioma, mistaking it for asthma or allergies, so it’s important to have it put in your medical notes if you’ve been exposed.
Treatments for mesothelioma
There are some treatment options for those with mesothelioma, which can improve survival times.
- Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) – this means the removal of the affected lung and lining, and is the most common treatment for early stage mesothelioma
- Chemotherapy or radiation – this can help target tumours, and can be used before or after surgery as part of a treatment plan
- Pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) – the surgeon removes the pleura and tumours, without the need to remove the entire lung
The treatment chosen will depend on the severity of the mesothelioma, and a number of other factors such as general health.
When it comes to pleural mesothelioma, the one-year survival rate is about 38%. So, one year after diagnosis, only a third of diagnosed patients will still be alive. Only about 9% of mesothelioma patients live for more than five years after diagnosis.
However, survival rates are improving, with better awareness of the condition and more treatment options available, and since the mid-1980s more patients have been living longer after diagnosis. The best advice is still to avoid asbestos where you can. Never try to remove it, or disturb areas where asbestos is suspected, rather, you should leave it to the professionals to deal with.