SafeWork Australia has released national findings pertaining to the asbestos-caused disease known as Mesothelioma. The data examines the incidence of the disease between 1982- 2007,and the deaths between 1997-2008. Data pertaining to new cases was compiled by the National Cancer Statistics Clearing House, maintained by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Data relating to mortality was compiled by National Mortality Database, made available to us by the AIHW.

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a typically fatal cancer which usually occurs 20-40 years after being exposed to asbestos. Mesothelioma of the pleura  is a cancer affecting the protective lining of the lung and chest area. This type of Mesothelioma is the most common and frequently diagnosed types in Australia.  Approximately 94% of cases in 1982 were Mesothelioma of the pleura as opposed to the Mesothelioma of the peritoneum (abdominal lining) which is significantly rarer.

Asbestos in Australia

Asbestos was an extremely common substance to use in the Australian cement manufacturing industry. The substance was imported largely from the UK and the USA. However Asbestos mines were also in operation.  Until the 1960’s almost tw0-thirds of houses were ridden with asbestos cement. Because of the common uses of the product, exposure to asbestos was especially high in these periods specifically in certain industries and occupations. Following a serious of regulations on industry use of asbestos, the substance was finally prohibited in all forms in 2003 by the Australian jurisdiction and Australian Customs. Nowadays a national Model Code of Practice, How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace, helps assist employers and employees on how to manage risks associated with asbestos and how to minimise the risk of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung-cancer.

New Cases/Incidence 

661 new cases of  asbestos causing disease,mesothelioma were diagnosed in Australia in 2008.

Initially the number of new cases seemed to be decreasing from a previous peak of 652 new cases in 2003 to 591 cases in 2006. However, in 2007  the number of diagnoses again reached a new peak of 668 cases. The age-standardised incidence rate of asbestos was 2.9 per 100,000 in 2008. This rate has gradually increased overtime — in fact, in 1982 the rate was 1.2 which eventually grew to 3.2 in 2003.  In 2008 the highest age-specific incidence rate of new cases occurred among men over 85 — 48 cases per 100,000 population.

Mesothelioma Related Deaths

In 2007, 551 deaths were reported to be caused by mesothelioma.  In the data available on deaths due to mesothelioma, the overall number of deaths have generally increased between 1997-2007. The last year of the available data showed the maximum on record.

In 2007, the age-standardised rate due to mesothelioma was 2.4 deaths per 100,000 population. The number has remained relatively stable for the 10 years of data recording on mesothelioma deaths. Over the period the rate has ranged between the minimum of 2.1 deaths per 100,000 population in 199, to 2.7 in 2001.

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