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Mesothelioma: An asbestos-related disease on the rise

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As described in the government’s Better Health Channel, mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that has no cure and has a long latency period, often taking between 20-50 years to develop. It can develop in various parts of the body including the abdomen, heart, testes and the most common being the lungs.

Although it’s not the most commonly contracted, mesothelioma is still one of the most fatal asbestos-related cancers with a mortality rate of 2.9 deaths per 100,000 population.

New cases have risen steadily since the early 1980s. In fact, Australia has one of the highest incidence rates of mesothelioma in the world.

Today, on average two people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in Australia each day, with a median age at diagnosis of 75 years old. In 2020, there were 642 new cases reported with a date of diagnosis during 2020 and 696 deaths of people with mesothelioma were recorded.

According to the Cancer Council, it was estimated that 868 new cases of mesothelioma would be diagnosed in Australia in 2021.

Who’s most at risk of developing mesothelioma?

In Australia, those most at risk of developing mesothelioma are those who are likely to experience occupational exposure to asbestos.

That is, people who work directly with the asbestos mineral, or around products containing asbestos including (but not limited to) construction workers and insulators, industrial and power plant workers, electricians and plumbers, steep mill workers and automotive industry workers.

It’s important to note that it can occur even from small exposures to asbestos.

Read more about tradies at risk of developing disease.

Symptoms of mesothelioma

Common symptoms that people with mesothelioma experience include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sharp stabbing pain in chest around the ribs or shoulder
  • Change in skin sensation
  • Loss of appetite with weight loss
  • Persistent cough or change in coughing pattern
  • Scarring of lungs

Read more about the impact of asbestos on Australian lives and understanding occupational cancer risks.

Compensation available to mesothelioma sufferers

If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s important that you investigate whether this may have an occupational connection – that is, if you’re likely to have been exposed to asbestos at any of your past or current jobs.

The reason being is you may be eligible for various compensation such as medical expenses paid for, or lump sum compensation through an occupational disease compensation claim.

There are two types of occupational disease workers’ compensation claims you can make for mesothelioma diagnoses that occurred as a result of employment, including a statutory WorkCover claim and/or a common law damages claim.

Most states and territories, including Victoria, have a list of deemed diseases that automatically entitle you to occupational disease workers’ compensation if you were employed in a job that is considered to have a certain level of risk to cause the illness.

Queensland, however, is the only state that does not have a type of deemed disease list – meaning it may involve a little more investigation and negotiation on your lawyer’s part.

Compensation also available to non-occupational asbestos exposure

Exposure to asbestos might not have happened at work. For example, you might have been exposed to it during your home renovation or working on an old car.

In addition to WorkCover and/or lump sum compensation there may be additional avenues of financial assistance, insurance and/or compensation available to help you, including through a superannuation claim such as total and permanent disability insurance, income protection payments and/or Critical Illness or Trauma insurance.

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Other blogs related to Occupational diseases below:

Silicosis National Registry: What it means for doctors

Understanding occupational cancer risks

Risks of welding fumes to workers health