This story from the Daily Mail, one of the UK’s leading newspapers.
120,000 more to die in a decade as legacy of asbestos reaches a peak
By JENNY HOPE – More by this author » Last updated at 22:53pm on 20th February 2007
More than 120,000 people will be killed by a lung cancer timebomb caused by exposure to asbestos in the 1960s and 70s, experts have revealed. Tens of thousands of workers and their families were given a shocking warning on Tuesday that they face a painful death from the untreatable condition.
Men who worked as carpenters, laggers, electricians, ship and dockyard workers are most at risk of painful tumours, which lead to sudden death.
But scientists have also warned many women will fall victim because their homes were invaded by asbestos dust brought back on the work clothes of fathers, brothers and husbands. On Tuesday the daughter of a dockyard worker won compensation from the Ministry of Defence after contracting cancer from hugging her father. Debra Brewer suffers from the asbestos-related condition mesothelioma, and said her only possible contact with the chemical was through her father Phillip Northmore.
Professor Julian Peto, Cancer Research UK chairman of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, issued Tuesday’s stark warning saying men currently in their 60s were at the greatest risk. Carpenters who used a particular type of wood in their work, shipyard workers, metal workers and electricians are all in danger, he said. Those born between 1945 and 1950 are particularly at risk. He said an “epidemic” of mesothelioma – cancer affecting the lining of the lungs – and asbestos-related lung cancer will peak in less than 10 years, for which there is no cure.
The aggressive cancer can take up to 40 years to develop but, once diagnosed, patients are given just nine to twelve months to live. Professor Peto warned that Britain has the highest rate of the disease in the world and he estimates that 60,000 people will die from mesothelioma in the UK in addition to 30,000 who had already lost their lives. With other asbestos-related lung cancers poised to kill similar numbers, up to 150,000 are expected to lose their lives in the coming years. He said: “Mesothelioma is on a completely different scale from any other industrial cancer disease in the world.
“The highest risk group of all is carpenters. One in 10 of all carpenters in Britain born in the 1940s could be affected. “Mesothelioma has already killed twice as many people as cervical cancer. Instead of young women, those affected are elderly working class men.”
However, women and children who lived with men exposed to asbestos in the 1960s were at risk of contracting the disease from the fibres and dust brought home on work clothes. Even younger men with “office jobs” could be at risk from prolonged exposure to low levels of dust in the home, he said. All types of asbestos can cause mesothelioma if the fibres are breathed in or swallowed. Asbestos was widely used as insulating material in building, mining, energy and water supply industries, and as lagging on boilers. Some artex ceilings contain asbestos so people doing DIY on old buildings are advised to use protective clothing and masks. “It is not a trivial risk – about one in 1,000 people seem to get mesothelioma with the absence of any direct exposure,” added Professor Peto.
According to the British Lung Foundation, more than 2,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year in the UK and someone dies every five hours. The number of deaths increased from 153 in 1968 to 1,969 in 2004 and is expected to peak at 2,450 between 2011 and 2015. Since asbestos was effectively outlawed in the 80s, the number of cases in those aged under 45 has dropped three-fold while those above 85 have risen three-fold.
Professor Peto said chemotherapy and immune therapy to tackle the disease were still in their experimental stages and the most vulnerable group in 10-15 years time will be over 75. Tests to diagnose the disease in its early stages are still imprecise, and there is a debate raging over whether victims should be identified when there is no effective treatment. Professor Peto said the dangers of exposure to asbestos had been known since the 1930s, yet few safeguards were enacted for decades. “Historically it is incomprehensible that this has happened. “That Britain should have made this extraordinary industrial error seems hard to understand,” he added.
Dr Keith Prowse, chairman of the British Lung Foundation, said the shortest time for the disease to develop was 15 years while the average was 35. Sufferers show signs of breathlessness, pain in the lower back or chest and a persistent cough. Dr Prowse said extreme surgery was possible in the early stages, with the removal of an affected lung, and latest chemotherapy regimes gave some sufferers an extra three months of survival.
He said: “It is a small gain but an important gain if you look at the current prognosis.”