“…Based on the latest projections, the annual number of (mesothelioma) deaths is expected to continue to increase in future years before peaking at around 2,500 per year towards the end of this decade.”

The above extract is from the most recent summary and future prediction modelling, ‘Mesothelioma Mortality in Great Britain 1968-2011’, published by the Health and Safety Executive in October 2013.

Released just ahead of the third parliamentary reading of the Mesothelioma Bill, the summary reiterates key information and sets out predictive projections based on 43 years of data collected and analysed by the HSE.

In the introduction, it is stated that, “Mesothelioma is a formally rare form of cancer…” and goes on to explain that the majority of current deaths from mesothelioma “are a consequence” of the long length of time that elapses between initial exposure to asbestos and the appearance of asbestosis symptoms, most typically between 30 and 40 years.

Mesothelioma mortality has continued to rise

By stating that mesothelioma is no longer considered a rare form of cancer, it may be inferred that there is a reinforcement of an important asbestos awareness message, i.e. that a significant level of mesothelioma mortality has continued to rise in the 30 years since the UK banned the most toxic brown and blue asbestos types and some 15 years since white asbestos imports were stopped.

It’s a message that the many mesothelioma victim support groups, responsible trade organisations, medical practitioners and asbestosis lawyers have long recognised and understood yet not always universally accepted. It may also highlight even more acutely the restricted eligibility of the Mesothelioma Bill, which excludes mesothelioma compensation to many sufferers with limited life expectancy and financial hardship.

According to the HSE, “most mesothelioma deaths occurring now are a legacy of past occupational exposures to asbestos when it was widely used in the building industry.” Despite the latest figures, which show the number of mesothelioma deaths has fallen from 2,360 in 2010 to 2,291 in 2011… the number of new cases of mesothelioma assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit has increased from 1,985 in 2011 to 2,125 new cases in 2012 (IIDB).” In addition, HSE expect the mortality rate to continue to increase before peaking by 2020.

Rates differ considerably between various groups

However, it is also stated that the mortality rates differ considerably between the various male age groups, as well as a wider variance with female rates, all of which impact upon the projected timelines.

According to the HSE report, it is males aged 75 and over who have the highest mortality rates and these “continue to follow an upward trend” over time. While rates had increased steadily for those aged 65-74 there has been a decline since 1970, slightly ahead of the 55-64 age group rate, which continued to increase over time but have also been in decline after reaching a peak in 2000-2002.

The youngest groups – those aged 35-44 and 45-54 years also showed an increasing trend in the earlier time periods, but since the early 1990s, their group mortality rates are also now on a downward trend.

Similar patterns are evident for female victims

Although the age-specific rates for females are generally an order of magnitude lower than for males, similar patterns are evident, and there is a suggestion that the rates in the 45-54 and 55-64 age groups have not reduced as strongly in women as in men. The reason is generally attributed to the different sources of occupational exposure, such as in types of manufacturing, which no longer exist.

Other factors influencing rate fluctuations observed may also include the elimination of “secondary exposure” from male workclothes and overalls, while, ironically giving greater prominence to indirect exposure in workplaces, such as schools, nurseries and hospitals constructed or renovated with asbestos-containing materials.

According to HSE, research finds that around a third of females who contract mesothelioma are caused by either occupational or domestic exposures. As female mesothelioma mortality has also increased over the last four decades, it is concluded that an increase in the average “background mesothelioma risk” among both older women (and men) is also due to exposure that is not readily identifiable but could have occurred in “any setting” during peak asbestos use in the UK between the 1950s to the 1970s / 80s.

There’s no doubt that the timeline legacy of Britain’s industrial asbestos past continues to bring suffering to men and women of adult age, and is set to continue to afflict generations of families far into the twentyfirst century. Despite the predicted peak, a further 45,000 mesothelioma deaths are estimated by 2050 at least.