Cancer Council Queensland has called for renewed awareness of the risks of asbestos after at least 166 Queenslanders were diagnosed with mesothelioma (a rare and fatal cancer caused by exposure to asbestos) last year.
Cancer Council Queensland CEO Ms Chris McMillan said Asbestos Awareness Week (November 19-25) provided an opportunity for tradespeople and home renovators to find out how to work safely with asbestos materials before starting a job.
“When breathed in, asbestos fibres raise a person’s risk of developing asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma,” Ms McMillan said.
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“Sadly, there is no cure yet for mesothelioma and due to its aggressive nature, those diagnosed often have a very poor prognosis.”
The average time between diagnosis and death in Australia is around 11 months, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare analysis of all mesothelioma diagnoses and deaths recorded in the Australian Mesothelioma Registry (AMR) as at September 2018.
“We know that asbestos miners, transport workers, builders, plumbers, electricians and mechanics may be among the most likely to be exposed to asbestos in their workplace,” Ms McMillan said.
“Queenslanders who haven’t worked directly with asbestos but have been exposed to it can also develop mesothelioma, including people washing or cleaning work clothes with asbestos fibres on them or people renovating homes.”
Asbestos was once used in Australia in more than 3000 different products including fibro, flue pipes, drains, roofs, gutters, brakes, clutches and gaskets.
“It’s vital that Queenslanders take the warning seriously and protect themselves and their families from asbestos fibres,” Ms McMillan said.
“If you’re not sure whether something is an asbestos containing material, and it was built ore renovated before 1990, assume it is until you have it confirmed by an expert and if it needs to be removed, engage a licensed asbestos removalist.”
Ms McMillan said mesothelioma has one of the longest latency periods of all diseases, typically 20-40 years after exposure, and the signs and symptoms of the disease are often vague and similar to other conditions.
“Shortness of breath, sharp pains in the chest or a dull pain in the shoulder and upper arm, a persistent cough or a change in a coughing pattern can be symptoms of the cancer,” Ms McMillan said.
“If Queenslanders are concerned about their risk, especially if they think they have been exposed to asbestos, they should see their general practitioner for advice.”
Queenslanders should visit worksafe.qld.gov.au for information on asbestos removal and carrying out asbestos-related work.