The latest figures collated in 2016 show that there were 2,595 mesothelioma deaths, with a similar number of lung cancer deaths linked to past exposure to asbestos.
There were 500 asbestosis deaths in 2016 due to past exposure to asbestos.
It is estimated that an average of 13 people a day in the UK die from conditions caused by previous exposure to asbestos – more than double the number of people who die on the roads.
Statistics show that the number of annual asbestos-related deaths has increased steeply over the last 50 years in the UK.
This is largely as a result of asbestos exposure prior to 1980, and asbestos deaths in the UK are now expected to continue at current levels for the rest of the decade before eventually declining.
Mesothelioma cancer affects the lining of the lungs and lower digestive tract.
It is the only cancer to be directly linked to asbestos exposure.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of mesothelioma lay dormant for many years following exposure to asbestos and subsequent inhalation of asbestos fibers, meaning by the time symptoms actually manifest, the disease is already well advanced.
Because of this, the disease is almost always fatal and patients often die within 12 months of diagnosis.
Annual UK deaths from asbestos related cancer mesothelioma are continuing to increase among those aged 75 years or over, but are reducing among those aged below 70 years.
In 2016, there were 2,197 male deaths recorded and 398 female deaths in the UK from mesothelioma asbestos cancer, following a similar pattern to the number of deaths in the previous four years.
Men who worked in the construction industry when asbestos was used extensively are now among those most at risk of developing mesothelioma in later life.
As well as smoking, asbestos exposure is up there as being one of the most common causes of lung cancer.
It’s notoriously difficult to pinpoint causes of lung cancer in individual cases, but the overall proportion of annual deaths in the UK attributable to past asbestos exposure can be estimated from epidemiological information.
Patients diagnosed with lung cancer will usually die within a few years, and the number of annual asbestos related lung cancer deaths in the UK are very similar to those of mesothelioma (so around 2,500).
People who smoke and have also been heavily exposed to asbestos in the past are more at risk of developing an asbestos related lung cancer.
It’s expected that there will be fewer asbestos related lung cancer deaths in the UK in future years due to reductions in asbestos exposure and far fewer people smoking, in contrast to previous decades.
Asbestosis is directly caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers.
Over a long period of time, symptoms will eventually begin to develop such as scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue.
Like mesothelioma, the asbestosis disease has a long incubation period, meaning any symptoms of the disease can take decades to manifest.
Asbestosis is linked to heavy asbestos exposure.
Once the asbestosis disease takes hold, the symptoms can seriously affect normal day to day activity, for example, patients often complain they experience trouble with breathing.
Deaths from asbestos related disease asbestosis have increased substantially over a number of decades with a total of 500 deaths recorded in 2016.
Asbestos was mentioned on the death certificate in over half of these deaths in 2016, but was not stated as being the main cause of death.
In comparison to the figures collated in 2016, there were only around 100 deaths per year in the UK from asbestosis in the late 1970’s.
Unlike other asbestos diseases mentioned above, non-malignant pleural disease is non cancerous.
This pleural disease affects the outer lining of the lungs (pleura).
There are on average around 430 new cases per year of non malignant pleural disease, of which around 10% of cases are female.
Figures collated in 2016 showed 450 new cases of pleural thickening in the UK.
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Duty holders and employers have a legal responsibility to manage asbestos in their properties, carrying out an asbestos survey in their building so as not to put employees at risk.
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