I lost a close family member to Mesothelioma. My Aunty was diagnosed in February 2014. Once she was diagnosed, like all cancer diagnoses, it was devastating, Even more so when it was realized there was no hope for a cure and that care would be palliative. And I confess to my total ignorance of Mesothelioma’s causes and effects – and its absence from public awareness and debate. My Aunty passed away in July 2015.

Mesothelioma. It’s an awkward word. It’s a difficult word to get the tongue around. “Mess-oh-fell-eeya…”. No, can’t say it! Not easy to spell either, it’s taken me several goes at it. Even spellcheck didn’t like it. So, it’s lack of linguistic snappiness seems to make it fairly easy to discard. No onomatopoeia, and definitely no monosyllabic acronym to hang on to, it will rarely be mentioned in polite conversation or in sensationalist headlines.

Mesothelioma, for those of you unaware (and I’d wager there are a few) is a form of cancer that develops from the thin layer of tissue that covers many of the internal organs. The most common area affected is the lining of the lungs and chest.  It’s a particularly decisive form of cancer in that there is no cure. Any treatment, so far, has had negligible results. The prognosis is very poor – with most sufferers living between 12-18 months after diagnosis.

Mesothelioma is contracted as a result of coming into contact with Asbestos (everyone knows that word). The microscopic fibres attach themselves to the thin protective tissue, needling and initiating a long term, cruel (in so many ways) pleural decline. This decline can usually take decades to manifest itself, with a latency period of 20 -50 years after exposure. Long after Asbestos, the “miracle material” of the building industry, has been identified and possibly removed from buildings.

It (Mesothelioma) kills over 5,000 people in the U.K. each year. That’s more than twice as many as die on our roads each year. It is estimated that worldwide approximately 90,000 people die from Mesothelioma annually. Nevertheless, we are the World Leaders. The U.K. is the capital of Death by Mesothelioma. And we haven’t reached the peak yet, it is estimated that we will see that peak figure in 2020.

Asbestos was used everywhere. In Factories, in Public Buildings, Hospitals, Libraries and (as I recall my juvenile glee at a suddenly announced afternoon off) in Schools.  A readily available wonder of insulation. What could possibly be the problem? Except for the fact that, in the U.K., the first confirmed related death was in 1924. In 1967 the industry declared a voluntary ban on “blue asbestos”. (presumably all the other types and colours were “OK”) In 1971 the first related personal injury claim was awarded (not without appeals of course). Until 1985, variations of Asbestos were still being imported, up to 139,000 tons annually, into Britain. The use of all Asbestos was eventually banned by the British Government in 1999. This last fact, when I learnt of it, staggered me. Did it really need to take so long?

So we can conclude that Mesothelioma could/should have been stopped from being this awkward, awful, silent epidemic. Perhaps, though, as it has been clear for many years how it is caused, those that suffer – including families – are, and have been, compensated? Not so easily, as it turns out. As far back as 1918 Insurance companies began to refuse Life Insurance to individuals, on the specific grounds that they were in working contact with Asbestos. Sadly, this avoidance trend continued long into the last century. The dormant killing has meant that long term developers’ insurance policies are “lost”.

At least amends are now being made. Slowly.

An act of parliament in 2014, the Mesothelioma Act, was passed with a £350 million (a familiar amount !?!…) compensation scheme. This initiative is to allow victims to seek compensation when it is not possible to do so from those directly responsible, such as an employer. Despite this, rudimentary research on this subject makes for depressing reading, with Parliamentary reports describing a “scandalous disregard for life” and conceding it is a “National Disgrace”. The neglect, like the disease, has had no boundaries.

Mesothelioma is often given the title of “Working Class Cancer”. Particularly affecting people from post war industrialised areas such as Glasgow, Rochdale and Dagenham. But that’s probably too simplistic. It’s cause – the prolific, and yes, neglectful, use of Asbestos – has been taking place within buildings everywhere for many, many, years. Disruption now caused by its extraction. The Houses of Parliament is riddled with it so expect news of our MP’s moving their articles of business from there for reasons other than democracy and devolution (although some would argue then, they can stay exactly where they are…).

There are, of course, too many fateful diseases and afflictions. All cancer is insidious, threatening and should be researched and, ideally, cured. This is not a plea for disease competition. It is important, though, to understand the history of Asbestos and its devastating consequences, like Mesothelioma, and ultimately, to learn from it.

For more information and support, please see below for some of the websites available: –


The British Lung Foundation – https://www.blf.org.uk