The race to find a cure for mesothelioma

Find out more about our asbestos training.

Research into a cure for mesothelioma has received a boost from a long-term survivor of the disease in Australia. The common prognosis of months rather than years has not come true in the case of Barry Knowles, a former builder, who has defied medical predictions and lived with the disease for six years.

Mesothelioma is known to result from asbestos exposure, and is an aggressive form of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs. Health and Safety Executive figures show that there were 2,538 deaths from the disease in Great Britain during 2013, with research into a cure taking place globally.

“The most contaminated place on the planet”

This is how the former town of Wittenoom has been described by Larry Graham, who was active in closing down the town’s blue asbestos mine. The mine was actually a tourist attraction during the 1970s, with a reported nine tour buses showing visitors round the site every day, exposing them to dangerous levels of asbestos dust and fibres.

Mining for asbestos first started at Wittenoom in the 1940s, so by the 1970s it was well established. Concerns about the safety of the substance had actually been voiced in 1944, however, but were not heeded.

Thirty years later it wasn’t just the workers or local residents whose health was at severe risk – tourists were also unknowingly inhaling lethal dust and fibres.

Closing down the town as well as the mine

Not only was the mine closed down, but the entire town had to be delisted in 2007. There was so much asbestos in the area, that it was deemed unsafe by the West Australian government for anyone to live in the area then, or in the future.

Mr Graham demonstrated his feelings of frustration and anger when he said:

“… there is not one good reason why anyone should do anything other than put a bulldozer through the joint, … It cannot be cleaned up, it is extraordinarily dangerous, and it is the most contaminated place on the planet.”

Hope for a cure

There is renewed hope for a cure for mesothelioma following Barry Knowles’ long survival time, and in some quarters the diagnosis is no longer seen as an unquestionable death sentence. Extended life expectancies and an increased number of available treatments provide hope for some of those suffering.

Although it has been reported that Barry Knowles “was not surprised” about his mesothelioma diagnosis following many years of exposure to asbestos, some sufferers are unaware that they’ve ever been in contact with the deadly substance.

Prolific use in the construction industry

Asbestos was so widely used in construction globally during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, that many older buildings are home to asbestos-containing materials in some form. It is when these materials are damaged or disturbed that asbestos dust is released into the air, and because it is difficult to see, is easily and unknowingly inhaled.

Although treatments depend on what stage the disease has reached upon diagnosis, hopes are higher than ever that a cure will be found in the coming years.