The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently released the mesothelioma fatality figures for 2012. Medical researchers are concerned to find that numbers have “significantly increased” and, more worryingly, are now not necessarily linked to “historical” high risk, occupational exposures.

According to HSE, the majority of mesothelioma deaths can be attributed to the long gestation period of up to 50 years that can elapse from an initial period of exposure to the appearance of mesothelioma / asbestosis symptoms.

Summary of 2012 figures

In the June 2014 update to the regular reports issued by HSE on “Mesothelioma Mortality In Great Britain 1968-2012”, a summary of the latest figures ( where available) show:

  • The number of mesothelioma deaths increased by more than 10.6 per cent from 2,291 in 2011 to 2,535 in 2012, largely due to an increase in male deaths aged 65 years or more (Mesothelioma Register).
  • The number of female mesothelioma deaths increased by a greater percentage than males – up 13.7 per cent from 360 in 2011 to 409 in 2012.
  • The number of new cases of mesothelioma assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit has risen by 7.1 per cent from 1,985 in 2011 to 2,125 new cases in 2012 (IIDB).

While the total number of mesothelioma deaths in 2011 actually fell for the first time in several years, the substantial rise once more in 2012 is close to the projected upper limit of a peak expected to occur towards the end of 2020.

Gap between male and female mortality numbers

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that “the projected upper limit” reflects a growing gap, which has opened up between male and female mesothelioma fatality numbers. While male deaths are expected to peak ‘towards the end of the decade’, female deaths are not expected to peak until ‘well beyond 2020’, although at about a quarter of the level of the male peak.

In addition, the date of the peak has gradually been extended. Despite of radically improved asbestos awareness and analytical techniques, there is much uncertainty over future projections as the model was based on “historic high level industrial exposures” and less is known about the level and extent of exposure after 1980.

Upward trend

Since 1970 there has been a threefold increase in the overall female death-rate of those aged below 65, most of which likely to have occurred in the last 10 years, in a factory, public building or commercial premises located in the UK’s asbestos-using “hotspots”. In addition, the risk from “environmental” exposure was equally as dangerous in the same regional areas.

While mesothelioma death rates for both males and females have followed an upward trend over time – and overall for males, upward trends were evident for most regions – HSE suggest that there is some evidence that rates for the different regions are converging over time.

Those regions with the lowest rates in earlier periods tend to increase most, while those with higher rates increase to a lesser extent. Although the numbers of cases are much smaller for females, nevertheless, an upward trend is fairly evident in all regions.