Mesothelioma in Australia
Mesothelioma, which is caused by asbestos exposure, has claimed more than 10,000 lives in the nation. Australia ranks second as the highest death rate in the world trailing the United Kingdom.
According to the Australian Mesothelioma Registry, there were 641 deaths from mesothelioma in the year 2014. The numbers further indicate that this cancer is increasing over time. According to medical models, this disease will continue to increase over time with the majority of deaths from mesothelioma occurring between 2014 and 2021.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare states that the number of mesothelioma cases will reach approximately 18,000.
In 2014, 80% of those who died from mesothelioma were men between the ages of 70-79. This number follows the statistics for mesothelioma deaths in the rest of the world.
New South Wales was the first state in Australia to mine asbestos and produced the largest amount of asbestos. Consequently, it hosts the largest number of Australian deaths from mesothelioma. The disease in New South Wales almost doubled between the years 1987 and 2006. Sadly, the death rate among women tripled during that same time due to secondhand asbestos exposure.
There were approximately 7,000 people working at the mine in Wittenoom from 1930 to 1966 and about 10% will die, or have died from mesothelioma. Although the town was removed from the map and the power supply was cut, a handful of residents still remain in the town.
Miners are not the only people at risk of developing mesothelioma. Those who worked in asbestos manufacturing plants also have high risks of mesothelioma related deaths. Plants were built in South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia by asbestos manufacturer James Hardie. It is estimated that half of all asbestos claims filed are filed against James Hardie.
Asbestos is prevalent in homes built prior to the mid 80’s and those built from the mid 80’s to 1990 will most likely contain some materials made with asbestos. Some of the products that might contain asbestos include:
- Roofing, flooring, wall sheeting,
- Putty and Glue
Mesothelioma In The Body
Mesothelioma has two main types, pleural and peritoneal. This cancer affects the mesothelium cells that cover most of your internal organs.
This type of cancer develops in the chest and is a cancer that begins in the membrane that covers the lungs. However, it is not a lung cancer and is treated differently. It makes up about 90% of all mesotheliomas.
Mesothelioma is difficult to treat due to its rarity as well as the fact that early signs and symptoms are similar to other conditions. It is important to talk to your doctor about the possibility of a diagnosis if you have been exposed to asbestos. Early symptoms can include:
- Loss of appetite, weight loss
- Shortness of breath that usually worsens with activity or when lying down
- Pain in the upper arm or shoulder, chest pain
- Persistent cough
- Night sweats
This type of mesothelioma accounts for about 10% of cancer cases and it develops in the lining of the abdomen. The symptoms for peritonea mesothelioma can include:
- Swollen or painful abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Bowel or urinary problems
Mesothelioma Treatment Centers in AU
The number of mesothelioma diagnosis continues to grow in Australia and thus the country is placing a higher importance on offering treatment for this disease. Research facilities like Bernie Banton Centre at Concord Hospital in Sydney are now dedicated to the research of mesothelioma as well as the regular development of clinical programs.
Treatment for mesothelioma can be found at the following Australian hospitals:
This stand-alone facility is dedicated to research, treatment, and prevention of asbestos-related diseases. The Asbestos Disease Research Institute is located here at this hospital.
This hospital is located in Melbourne, Victoria and is the only public hospital that is dedicated solely to the treatment of cancer, cancer research and cancer education. This facility is the largest cancer research facility in the country.
There are three research organizations in Australia. They include the National Center for Asbestos Related Disease (NCARD), Australasian Lung Cancer Trials Group, and NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre.
These trials are sponsored by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Open trials can be found through these organizations.
One clinical trial is testing a new immunotherapy drug for patients who have relapsed after chemotherapy or for those who did not qualify for surgery. This drug, Tremelimumab, will stimulate the patient’s immune system in order to help it attack the cancer.
The Fatal Accidents Amendment Act of 2008 grants victims and their surviving family member’s compensation if damages are awarded for suffering, pain, and the loss of enjoyment of life.
Bernie Banton Law
This 2008 law was named after a victim of mesothelioma who campaigned for new legislation. It allows the citizens of Victoria who have been diagnosed with a progressive lung disease caused by asbestos exposure, to seek compensation. They are also entitled to pursue more compensation at later date if mesothelioma develops from exposure.
In 1958 this act allowed for full compensation to anyone who lost income due to anyone who became sick after exposure to asbestos on the job. At that time the law did not allow the same rights to individuals in non-occupational jobs who had been exposed to asbestos. A 2006 amendment granted individuals the right to compensation due to secondhand exposure.
James Hardie Cases
The Medical Research and Compensation Foundation was established by James Hardie Industries in 2001. It has $293 million dollars in funds allocated toward assisting victims of asbestos exposure. At the time the company stated the funding would meet the needs of all future asbestos claims. The company moved to the Netherlands in 2003 at which time it announced that the fund was under-funded. Officials state that James Hardie faces payouts in the amount of $1.87 billion over the next 30 years due to a spike in claims in 2013. By the year 2017, the fund will be an estimated $184 million short.
The manufacturing company has proposed paying claimants in installments rather than the traditional lump sum payment, but mesothelioma advocates are angry by this proposal stated that the average life expectancy after diagnosis is less than two years. Many victims may not live long enough to see their legal compensation. Patients need their compensation up front in order to pay for treatment and to cover expenses due to lost wages.
Australia’s Asbestos Exposure Prevention Regulations
Australia has a Work Health and Safety Regulations act that makes the laws to manage asbestos in the workplace. They are governed by Safe Work Australia who oversees the handling of workplace asbestos. These laws pertain to the following:
- Handling of naturally occurring asbestos
- Training of asbestos workers
- Removal of asbestos
- Licensing requirements of abatement professionals
Proper management and control of asbestos can be found in Safe Work Australia’s Code of Practice. It contains additional information on how to identify asbestos materials, the proper reporting of asbestos and how to manage any exposure risk in the workplace. The goal of the Code of Practice is to protect workers on the job from exposure to asbestos.
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- Copy edited from Understanding Pleural Mesothelioma, Cancer Council Australia © 2015. Last medical review of source booklet: June 2015.
- Peter Mac. (2013). About us. Retrieved from http://www.petermac.org/about-us
- Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia. (n.d.). Asbestos info. Retrieved from http://www.asbestosdiseases.org.au/asbestos-info.html
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. ACIM (Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality) Books. Canberra: AIHW.
- Asbestos Disease Research Institute (2012). About us. Retrieved from http://adri.org.au/
- Kerin, L. (2009, November 13). Breakthrough in fight against mesothelioma. ABV News. Retrieved fromhttp://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/11/13/2741830.htm
- Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia Inc. (2012). Medical research. Retrieved fromhttp://www.asbestosdiseases.org.au/asbestosinfo/medical_research.htm
- Australian Mesothelioma Registry. (2015, August). Mesothelioma in Australia 2014. Retrieved from https://www.mesothelioma-australia.com/media/12174/amr_4thannualdatareport_final.pdf
- Safe Work Australia. (n.d.). Asbestos. Retrieved from http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/whs-information/asbestos/pages/asbestos
- Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. (n.d.). Asbestos information. Retrieved from https://www.asbestossafety.gov.au/asbestos-information