How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma
The United Kingdom possesses one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world, largely because the UK government permitted the use of asbestos UK long after other countries outlawed it.. In addition, shipbuilders historically are among the people most affected by mesothelioma, and the shipbuilding industry plays a large role in the history of the United Kingdom, especially around the time of World War II.
The cause of the disease is linked to the exposure to asbestos, and shipbuilding throughout the world featured hundreds of asbestos products used for insulation, including those vessels used in the British Armed Forces. The material was considered ideal for use aboard ships until the 1980s. Asbestos could be found in the engine and boiler rooms, as well as in the walls, floors and ceilings of rooms such as the sleeping quarters and the galley. Both shipbuilders and those who served on military vessels could have inhaled airborne asbestos fibres while working on the ships.
In 2008, 2,249 UK residents died from mesothelioma, and from 2006 to 2008 – the last year in which figures are available – the UK’s mesothelioma rates rose to 62.3 per million for men and 11.6 per million for women. However, researchers acknowledge that it is possible that the percentage of people contracting mesothelioma in the UK is the same now as then but that the tracking of the disease is so much better.
As in most countries, most UK residents who die from the disease are older than 65, though some younger individuals have been diagnosed because of secondhand exposure and indirect contact with asbestos materials. About 80 percent of the people who receive a mesothelioma diagnosis in the UK are men, which also fits the worldwide profile for the cancer.
However, the annual number of deaths among women has increased more rapidly than the increase among men over the last ten years. Figures for women rose 68 percent in the last 10 years, compared to 35 percent for men. Women are often exposed to asbestos indirectly by living in areas near asbestos factories or coming into contact with people who worked with asbestos.
‘Most Mesothelioma cases are caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is made up of tiny fibres.’
‘Over the course of years (usually decades) this can develop into the cancer, mesothelioma. Once at this stage, the progression of the disease can be very quick, with most people dying within a year of diagnosis.’
‘When the asbestos is disturbed and the fibres are inhaled, they can become embedded in the pleura, the lining of the lungs. Asbestos fibres irritate the pleura and can cause cell mutations.’
Mesothelioma by Location
Asbestos was also widely used in factories, chemical plants, power plants, refineries, commercial buildings and even homes and schools in the UK. Little thought was given to the potential dangers of the mineral, even though scientific findings from as early as the 1920s and 1930s suggested that the material was causing serious respiratory illnesses in individuals exposed to airborne asbestos fibres.
In the 1970s, it became apparent that cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases were on the rise in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Legislators recognised that it was necessary to take action to control and possibly ban the use of this toxic material, and hospitals realised that they needed to account for people who needed specialised treatment for this rare cancer.
The Health and Safety Executive notes that there has been a general increase in the number of deaths from mesothelioma in most regions of the United Kingdom. The only regions that have seen a slight decrease for males have been Scotland, North East, South East and West Midlands. An upward trend for women has been found in all regions.
The 20 most affected sites in the UK are:
- Barking and Dagenham
- Crewe and Nantwich
- Glasgow City
- North Tyneside
- South Tyneside
- West Dunbartonshire