Home DIY keeps asbestos threat on radar

2 minute read

Bunnings may be great retail therapy but DIY is a key continuing factor in australians being exposed to asbestos (MJA)


Asbestos-related diseases remain a key health threat in Australia because of exposure linked to home renovation projects, an editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia has warned.

While public awareness campaigns and safety restrictions in workplace has led to a levelling in rates of malignant mesothelioma in Australia, the MJA warns doctors to remain on their guard for signs of the disease.

There are still about 630 cases of malignant mesothelioma a year in Australia and we have the world’s second-highest mortality rate from this disease.

“The [rate of] malignant diseases will hopefully at least plateau, but I’m really not expecting it to drop for perhaps another 20 or 30 years,” said author Dr Anna Nowak, Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Western Australia.

Lung malignancies could be triggered by even moderate exposure to asbestos and given that one third of Australian homes still contain asbestos products, people must be extremely vigilant when doing any sort of renovation on older buildings, Professor Nowak told The Medical Republic.

“You can’t really get a mild form of mesothelioma. If you’ve got it you’ve got an aggressive and dispersed form of cancer. It’s impossible to get surgical clearance,” she said.

While tomographic screening was used in people that had been exposed to asbestos in the workplace, clinical trials were yet to demonstrate a benefit for early detection of any asbestos-related disease apart from focal lung cancers, Professor Nowak said.

In the MJA article, Professor Nowak and colleagues advised doctors that asbestos-related disorders could easily be misdiagnosed. Non-malignant asbestosis might present with asthma-like symptoms such as dry cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

Asbestos-related lung cancer was indistinguishable from the smoking-induced disease, while triggers other than asbestos existed for diffuse interstitial fibrosis.

The report also highlighted the need for understanding genetic predispositions for these cancers, given that the risk for malignant mesothelioma was two times higher for immediate family members.

MJA. 2016 Feb 1;204(2):48-9

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