A new report has found the five-year survival rate of mesothelioma in Australia has not improved in 30 years, with two Australians diagnosed with the disease every day.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) report found Australia has one of the highest incidence rates of mesothelioma in the world. It is generally accepted that the primary cause of the disease is exposure to asbestos fibres.
AIHW spokesperson Dr Lynelle Moon said before being banned in Australia in 2004, asbestos was used in more than 3,000 products across the construction industry. This means a significant amount of asbestos still remains in buildings and other infrastructure, with thousands of products containing asbestos still in use today.
Of the 710 Australians diagnosed with mesothelioma last year, approximately 83 per cent were men. This is largely due to the higher proportion of males working in occupations where asbestos exposure is most likely, including construction workers, electricians, plumbers, boilermakers, welders and other mechanic and mechanical trades.
The report found that since 2010, 94 per cent of mesothelioma cases in women were linked to non-occupational exposure to asbestos, compared to only 22 per cent in men.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive condition and the average five-year survival rate of 5 per cent has scarcely improved in 30 years. The average length of time between diagnosis and death is just 11 months and the number of new cases is steadily increasing. Mesothelioma has become a global health concern, with approximately 125 million people having been exposed to asbestos in the workplace.
Recently in Western Australia, where the mesothelioma rate is highest in the country, Worksafe WA issued a safety alert after a painter used a high-pressure water cleaner on an asbestos cement roof, resulting in asbestos fibres contaminating the premises and surrounding properties.
The alert stressed the fact that materials containing asbestos must be removed by licensed asbestos removalists and non-abrasive methods must be used where cleaning is required. Workers must remain informed of hazards and aware of safe work procedures, and asbestos registers must be used when planning work that might disturb fibres.