Mesothelioma levels in ACT drop, but still remain at record highs

Mesothelioma levels in ACT drop, but still remain at record highs

The number of new mesothelioma cases in the ACT dropped during 2017, but the rate of the disease in Canberra is still at one of the highest levels since national reporting began seven years ago.

Nine new cases of mesothelioma were diagnosed in the ACT last year, eight of them were men. That is slightly down from a record high of 10 new cases reported in 2016.

There were nine new cases of mesothelioma in the ACT last year, a new report revealed.

There were nine new cases of mesothelioma in the ACT last year, a new report revealed.Credit:Rohan Thomson

However, 2017's figures are expected to rise even further in months to come, with not all cases reported in the same year they are diagnosed.

The figures, outlined in an Australian Institute for Health and Welfare report, showed 2.2 people per 100,000 in the ACT were diagnosed with the disease in 2017, compared to a rate of 2.7 in 2016.


Mesothelioma rates were significantly higher in Canberra men, at 3.9 people per 100,000, compared to 0.5 for women.

Many Canberrans who have been diagnosed with the condition have previously been linked to residents of homes insulated by former loose-fill asbestos company Mr Fluffy.

Nationally, 710 people were diagnosed with the cancer in 2017, the lowest level since 2011 when 702 people were diagnosed.

"Western Australia recorded the highest rate at 4.9 cases per 100,000 people, while Tasmania recorded the lowest at 1.5," the report said.

The report also showed reported cases of mesothelioma in Australia have been steadily increasing since the early 1980s, when 157 cases were diagnosed.

Institute spokeswoman Lynelle Moon said the rise was due in part to increased community awareness and improvements in diagnosis.

"Australia used asbestos extensively until the mid-1970s, and mesothelioma has a delayed onset of 20 to 30 years from exposure," Dr Moon said.

The five-year survival rate after a diagnosis has ranged from 4.8 per cent to 6.2 per cent since 1985.

For those who survived one year living with the condition, the five-year survival rate increases but only to 10 per cent.

"Sadly, mesothelioma has a very poor prognosis. It is often diagnosed once it has reached the advanced stages, as early symptoms can go unnoticed or be mistaken as symptoms for other, less serious conditions," Dr Moon said.

The recent report from the institute comes months after a separate report revealed the ACT has one of the the highest mesothelioma rates in the nation.

The Australian National University last year proved for the first time a link between residents of Mr Fluffy houses and mesothelioma.

The ACT government will publish a list of remaining Mr Fluffy homes in Canberra in December, with 69 homes still standing in the territory.

In a recent letter to affected residents, Asbestos Response Taskforce director Bruce Fitzgerald said 954 of 1023 Mr Fluffy homes had been demolished.

Andrew Brown is a journalist at the Sunday Canberra Times. Andrew has worked at the Canberra Times since 2016.

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