The Office of Asbestos Safety, announced by the Federal Government last week, will develop a plan to remove asbestos from government and commercial buildings by 2030 and label asbestos in homes to alert tradesmen, tenants and buyers.

MESOTHELIOMA EXPLAINED: This incurable cancer occurs in the pleural tissue layers that coat the inside of the chest wall and the outside of the lung and is almost always caused by asbestos exposure, according to Edward Fysh, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital respiratory physician and Lung Institute of WA researcher.

Once inhaled, the long, pointy, sharp asbestos crystals spear through the airway walls and deposit in the pleural space, where they cause ongoing, low-grade inflammation. The immune system often fails to clear these fibres.

These fibres over time, often 20-40 years after inhalation, lead to the development of mesothelioma. While not all people exposed to asbestos will develop mesothelioma, a small exposure can be enough to trigger the cancer.

Dr Fysh said there were about 100 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each year in WA, causing an estimated 650 admissions to hospital each year. The median survival time is just under a year.

There is no cure and chemotherapy could only extend life by an average of three months. Most patients suffer from rapid build-up of fluid causing breathlessness and a fear of drowning.

A new technique of inserting an indwelling catheter to drain the fluid - recently developed by Dr Fysh and colleague Professor Gary Lee - has helped reduce breathlessness and reduced the need to visit hospital for drainage procedures.

· The number of new cases in the Western world is expected to peak in 2020 but there will be a long "tail" of cases for years after, according to Dr Fysh.

· About 1631 West Australians were diagnosed with mesothelioma between 1960 and 2008. Most worked in mining and milling asbestos products.

· From 1981 to 2008, 87 cases of malignant mesothelioma were linked to home maintenance or renovation.

· In 2005-08, home renovators accounted for 8.4 per cent of all men and 35.7 per cent of all women diagnosed.

· There have been at least 4700 deaths from mesothelioma in Australia since records began in the early 1980s.

· It is estimated more than 25,000 Australians will die over the next 40 years.

· Pleural disease - inflammation of the membranes (pleura) that line the lungs and chest cavities causing the tissue to stiffen and thicken and the accumulation of fluid, restricting breathing.

· Asbestosis - airways and lung tissue become inflamed, scarred and stiff, preventing oxygen passing into the blood and making breathing difficult.

· Lung cancer - asbestos fibre exposure greatly increases the risk of lung cancer, particularly among smokers.

SOURCES: Australian Government Asbestos Management Review Report, June 2012; National Health and Medical Research Council; Lung Institute of WA.

The West Australian

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