What is mesothelioma cancer? Symptoms and signs to watch for - when was asbestos legally banned in UK

Mesothelioma is usually caused by asbestos and just a small number of those who have it survive beyond five years

More than 2,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the UK every year.

The devastating condition is terminal with just a small percentage of those who have it surviving beyond five years.

But what is mesothelioma, what are the main symptoms to look out for and what are the survival rates?

More than 2,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma a year in the UK.

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a cancer that develops in the lining of organs, and has a terminal diagnosis, with the most common cause being asbestos exposure.

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It most commonly forms in two sites.

Pleural Mesothelioma forms in the lining of the lung, while peritoneal mesothelioma forms in the tissue lining of the abdomen and is caused by ingested asbestos fibres.

However, according to the NHS it is also possible for it to affect the heart or testicles.

The UK has the world’s highest incidences of mesothelioma with more than 2,700 people diagnosed with the cancer every year.

Statistics from Cancer Research UK based on the net survival of patients from 2013 to 2017 show 43.5% of males survive mesothelioma for at least one year.

For females this was 49.7%.

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While the figures show 6.5% of people diagnosed with mesothelioma survive their disease for five years or more.

Since the early 1990s, mesothelioma incidence rates have increased by almost three-fifths (57%) in the UK. Rates in females have increased by more than nine-tenths (93%), and rates in males have increased by almost half (47%).

Though incidence rates for mesothelioma are projected to fall by 53% in the UK by 2035.

Most cases are diagnosed in people aged 60 to 80, and men are affected more commonly than women.

When diagnosed at its earliest stage, around 6 in 10 (59%) people with mesothelioma will survive their disease for one year or more.

As mesothelioma is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, treatment is usually focused on controlling the symptoms and prolonging life for as long as possible.

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What are the symptoms?

Mesothelioma UK says among the symptoms of the pleural form of the condition - which is the most common area to get it, are:

  • shortness of breath 
  • chest pain 
  • cough 
  • sweating 
  • loss of appetite 
  • weight loss 
  • fatigue and lethargy 

The signs of the peritoneal form of it are:

  • Pain in the abdomen (stomach) 
  • A swollen abdomen 
  • Constipation or diarrhoea 
  • Feeling or being sick 
  • Indigestion 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Weight loss 
  • Night Sweats  
  • Fatigue 

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Richard Green.

Can we expect to see mesothelioma cases rise even more?

According to Mesothelioma UK the rising number of patients is directly linked to the UK’s continued import and use of asbestos into the late 1990s. The use of asbestos was banned in 1999.

Richard Green a specialist mesothelioma lawyer Hugh James Solicitors, acted for dad-of-three Liam Bradley who was diagnosed with the condition over five years ago, to secure a financial settlement.

Mr Green said the UK is likely continue to see in excess of 2,000 cases a year for some time, he explained: “The import of asbestos into the UK peaked in 1977.

“Asbestos continues to be present in an awful lot of buildings, such as schools, hospitals, and the like. And if you take into account that we’re now 40 odd years down the road from there, you can get a feel for the fact that asbestos is gradually degrading over time.

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“When asbestos degrades and breaks up, that’s when it becomes dangerous. So we’re still seeing people exposed to asbestos. And then when you factor in the latency period, we’re still then seeing people coming through with the condition.

“Unfortunately, there is a suggestion that if you’re exposed to asbestos in your childhood, the latency can be shorter as well. So for example, if you were a pupil at a school that contained asbestos in poor condition, it may well be that your latency period is more likely to be say 10/15 to 20 years rather than 40 to 60 years, if you were exposed in your formative years.”

He added: “There are roughly 2,700 cases in the UK every year. Our feeling is that that will carry on for a number of years to come. There’s previously been an indication that after 2020, the number of cases may drop significantly, based upon linking it back to the import of asbestos into the UK, however, that doesn’t seem to be playing out.

“So one would imagine that we will continue to see in excess of 2500 cases a year for probably at least the next 10 years or so.”