Nearly 7,000 cases (6,932) of malignant pleural mesothelioma were recorded in England between 2014-16, according to the third report of the National Mesothelioma Audit in the UK, published 21st June 2018. An additional 260 cases of malignant peritoneal (abdominal) mesothelioma were also recorded. It’s the first time that figures for peritoneal mesothelioma are included – raising further asbestos awareness to the risk of various other types of the fatal cancer.

Researchers at The National Mesothelioma Audit state in the report that a large majority of cases were male (pleural mesothelioma – 87 per cent / peritoneal mesothelioma – 66 per cent) and most probably related to occupational asbestos exposure. The high figure levels may be seen as an indication that the expected decline in peak mesothelioma mortality widely predicted for around 2020 may be overly optimistic.

More than 1 in six aged 65-69

The Report shows that while just over 1 in five (21 per cent) – the largest number – were in the 75-79 age group, more than 1 in six (15 per cent) were aged 65-69 and 1 in 14 (7 per cent) aged 60-64. Between 1 and 3 per cent accounted for all ages up to 59. The incidence of mesothelioma among younger age groups suggest that mortality rates for the incurable disease look set to continue well beyond 2020-30.

Research by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) published in 2015 also found that between 1968 and 2013, the number of males aged between 50 and 70 increased by about 25 per cent and will increase by around a further 20-35 per cent by 2050. Often referred to as the ‘second wave’, the next generation of male victims were often exposed to asbestos during the latter period of peak use from the late 1960s through to the first ban on the most toxic brown and blue fibre types in the mid 1980s. Many are service, cleaning and maintenance engineers whose regular tasks often involved repairing and replacing asbestos insulation in buildings, boiler and pipework systems.

Nearly 1 in five cases at Stage 3

Further similar conclusions may be drawn by the proportion of cases recorded in the new Audit, which were at different stages of development. Nearly 1 in five (19 per cent) were at Stage 3 compared to 1 in 12 (8 per cent) at Stage 2. Early detection of the cancer has often been difficult because of the exceptionally long period of time – usually 30-40 years – that the potential for the condition to develop remains dormant from an initial exposure to the emergence of asbestosis symptoms.

Another study previously carried out by an international group of 180 scientists from 35 countries also included data on over 860 mesothelioma cases from more than 22,000 individual exposures across Europe.

Risk actually increased for 45 years following a first exposure

It was found that nearly 45 per cent of pleural mesothelioma cases, and more than 50 per cent of peritoneal mesothelioma cases, were diagnosed at least 40 years after a first exposure. Even after 50 years, more than 13 per cent of pleural cases and 23 per cent of peritoneal cases were still being recorded. It was also found that the rate and risk of pleural mesothelioma actually increased for 45 years following a first exposure, which then appeared to advance but at a slower pace.

Recent figures from The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also point to a high mesothelioma rate continuing for a further 20-30 years at least. The average annual victim count had risen from 2,123 in 2013 to 2,500 and by 2015 the numbers had risen once more to 2,542. It is now thought the figures could reach 2,800 every year by 2025, at least.