Mesothelioma and Asbestos in the UK

The United States banned the use of asbestos in the late 1970’s however many other countries did not follow this lead. For example, the United Kingdom possess a very high mesothelioma rate due to the fact that the government continued its use even after the risk of mesothelioma was known. Annual deaths from mesothelioma have steeply increased over the last 50 years due to the widespread use of asbestos from 1950-1980. More than 2,600 people in the UK are diagnosed with this condition.
Mesothelioma has a strong association with exposure to asbestos and both shipbuilders and Navy personnel were among the most affected. Evidence shows that approximately 85% of male mesothelioma patients were exposed to asbestos in an occupational setting. Asbestos was used in insulation products throughout the ship including the boiler and engine rooms, sleeping quarters and the galley. It was in the ceilings, floors and walls in almost every part of the ship.
This meant that shipbuilders and crewmen were exposed to asbestos fibers on a daily basis. This exposure greatly increased their risk for developing this rare cancer. When asbestos is disturbed tiny particles are released into the air. These fibers are then inhaled and travel to the lungs or abdomen where they slowly form into mesothelioma. It can take up to 50 years before symptoms begin to appear and it is usually at an advanced stage by the time of diagnosis. The majority of residents who die from this disease are over 65. Mesothelioma cases can be found in most of the UK’s regions. A recent report by the UK’S Health and Safety Executive show a slight decrease in mesothelioma related deaths for men in Scotland, South East, North East and West Midlands. There was a slight increase for women in all of the regions.
In the UK, men make up about 80 percent of the diagnosis which correlates with the statistics worldwide. Over the last 10 years, the death among women has increased more rapidly than the men. The diagnosis for women rose 68 percent compared to 35 percent for men. Women can be indirectly exposed to asbestos fibers if they reside near asbestos factories or if they frequently come into contact with someone who has worked with asbestos.

High Risk Occupations

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Prior to the 1980’s, anyone in the UK who was part of the shipbuilding industry, including serving on ship are at a high risk for exposure to asbestos and subsequently, mesothelioma. Presently, when these old ships are refurbished, maintained or repaired exposure to asbestos is still a danger. Asbestos will be disturbed in the process of repair and thus the fibers will become airborne.

Another high-risk occupation is construction work. Since asbestos was used for so long in the UK construction on these buildings and residences are prime places to find asbestos. Any structures built before the year 2000 will most likely contain asbestos, while in the United States asbestos is unlikely to be found in a structure after 1980.

As early as the 1930’s scientific studies found that asbestos was causing respiratory illnesses in people who had been exposed to asbestos fibers. However, it continued to be widely used chemical plants, factories, refineries, and homes and schools in the UK.

By 1970 mesothelioma cases were rising in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Legislators began to realize that it was time to take action on the use of asbestos. Around this time hospital’s also saw that these cases required specialized care and treatment and doctors began to specialize in this cancer.


Other high-risk occupations include:

  • Carpenters
  • Joiners
  • Boilermakers
  • HVAC engineers
  • Roofing contractors
  • Demolition crews
  • Painters
  • Maintenance workers
  • Teachers
  • Plumbers
  • Electricians

Centers for Mesothelioma Treatment in the UK

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There are only a few hospitals in the UK that have the specialists who can treat mesothelioma. One of the best hospitals is the Royal Marsden Hospital which has locations in Surrey and London. This hospital is the oldest hospital specializing in cancer related diseases in the entire world. There are approximately 500 new lung patients a year that are seen here. Facilities are state-of-the-art and offer participation in the ongoing clinical trials.

Other treatment centers include:

  • Glenfield Hospital
  • The Christie Hospital
  • The London Chest Hospital
  • Guys Hospital
  • Bartholomew’s Hospital
  • Papworth Hospital
  • London Lung Cancer Centre-London Bridge Hospital

Clinical trials are offered at many of these hospitals. One such trial is studying the effects of prophylactic radiation of surgery scars to see if it will prevent or delay the recurrence of mesothelioma.

Light at the End of the Tunnel for UK

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According to the Health and Safety Executive’s projections indicate that there will continue to be about 2,500 deaths a year for the rest of the decade after which the number will begin to decline. These numbers are based on previous projections of deaths that occurred through the year 2010 during which an expected pattern emerged. Death rates will continue to be much higher among older males which is reflection of the latency of the disease as well as the timing of exposure.
Overall the outlook for curing mesothelioma is poor. This is because of the fact that symptoms do not appear until the advanced stages of mesothelioma and at that point the disease progresses quickly. Around 50% of people diagnosed with mesothelioma will live at least a year after they have been diagnosed. About 10% will live at least five years after they have been diagnosed.
Last Modified: Apr 14, 2017 @ 12:05 am
Show Sources


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  5. Health and Safety Executive. (n.d.). Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Retrieved from
  6. Malignant pleural mesothelioma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up; European Society for Medical Oncology (2015)
  7. Opitz I; Management of malignant pleural mesothelioma-The European experience. J Thorac Dis. 2014 May;6 Suppl 2:S238-52. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2014.05.03.
  8. Christoph DC, Eberhardt WE; Systemic treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma: new agents in clinical trials raise hope of relevant improvements. Curr Opin Oncol. 2014 Mar;26(2):171-81. doi: 10.1097/CCO.0000000000000053.
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