The Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team (DAST) displayed the names of more than 100 local victims of asbestos exposure on the west wall of Lincoln Cathedral last week. Intended to commemorate those who had died from mesothelioma, the event also raised public awareness of the dangers of this carcinogenic substance.
The support group, originally set up in 2002, became a registered charity in 2007. They cover the Lincolnshire and East Midlands area, helping victims of asbestos exposure and their families to cope following devastating diagnoses of life-threatening disease.
Pleural mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive form of lung cancer, and is solely attributed to asbestos exposure. Inhaled asbestos fibres are very difficult for the body to expel, and can cause genetic changes to cells over a number of years.
Limited options for mesothelioma treatment
Mesothelioma sufferers are often unaware of their condition until it has reached an advanced stage, and for this reason treatment options are usually very limited. Although radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and in some cases surgery, may all be available, it is often the case that palliative care is the only option.
The disease causes shortness of breath, a chronic cough, fatigue, chest pain, and loss of weight, plus other symptoms that may not in isolation feel troublesome to the patient.
Chest X-rays, CT scans, and pleural biopsies, are all used by the medical profession, but it can be difficult to arrive at a definite diagnosis because of the similarity between mesothelioma and other forms of lung cancer.
Three-step approach to helping asbestos victims
Although the Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team helps asbestos victims and their families in hundreds of different ways, there are three main categories where practical assistance is of great value:
- Support with benefits and compensation
This includes helping victims or their carers to fill out forms for government benefits and compensation schemes.
- Campaigning and raising awareness
DAST organises events to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos, for example among the general public, homeowners, and those involved in the education sector where the presence of asbestos is a particular concern.
- Support for bereaved families
The group facilitate support for families of loved ones who have died from asbestos-related disease.
Training and awareness
More than 2,000 mesothelioma diagnoses are made each year in the UK, according to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics, with men outnumbering women by approximately five times.
This is probably due to the element of occupational exposure in previous decades, with the construction and shipbuilding industries being prolific users of asbestos. In fact, research funded by HSE and Cancer Research UK, suggest that:
“… men born in the 1940s who worked as carpenters for more than 10 years before they reached 30 have a lifetime risk for mesothelioma of about one in 17.”
It was only in 2006 that the provision of asbestos awareness training became compulsory – workers in the 1940s would have had little idea of the danger they were in simply by carrying out their trade.