British Medical Journal Study Suggests UK Facing Mesothelioma Epidemic

Feb. 2, 2004
The UK is facing an epidemic of mesothelioma (a malignant tumor of the lung lining) among workers exposed to asbestos, physicians warned in the Jan. 31 issue of the British Medical Journal.

There are now over 1,800 mesothelioma deaths per year in the UK more than one in 200 of all deaths in men and almost one in 1000 in women and the number is still increasing, said reseachers. Since work-related exposure to asbestos in the UK continued until 1980, the peak of the epidemic is still to come, and a strategy is needed to manage these patients, they write.

The researchers counseled that all doctors need to know how to recognize and diagnose mesothelioma and what treatments are available.

And because the exposures occurred throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, there is nothing that can be done to prevent the number of cases from climbing.

What can be done, suggested the study authors, is:

  • Recognize it early
  • Treat it actively
  • Learn about best treatment with carefully structured studies

They predict the medical community will see many more cases of mesothelioma in the next 25 years. In the developed world alone, 100,000 people alive now will die from it, they conclude.

The general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Brendan Barber, said the study results reinforce what unions have been saying for many years. "Many thousands of workers have already suffered long, slow and painful deaths because of exposure to asbestos. Many tens of thousands more who have worked with asbestos in the past face an uncertain future, not knowing if they too will one day become mesothelioma victims," he commented.

Pointing out that "half a million workplaces still contain asbestos, much of it sitting there forgotten about until it gets disturbed during maintenance or demolition work," Barber added, "The best legacy that we can give to those whose lives have been destroyed and ended by this killer dust is to ensure that is managed safely so that no more workers are unwittingly exposed."

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