What do you know about mesothelioma?
One of the world’s rarest cancers, this deadly disease does not garner a great deal of attention despite there being over 5,400 sufferers in the UK alone.
The cancer develops in the lining, the ‘mesothelium’, which covers some of the body’s most vital organs in the chest or abdomen. Most cases affect the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), and then the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma).
As rare as the cancer may be, it is sadly even rarer for it to be cured. Treatment can help with the symptoms, but the average survival time after diagnosis is just 11 months. Seven people die every day in Britain from mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is more common in men than in women, and nearly half of those diagnosed with the disease are over 75 years old. And, frighteningly, its incidence has risen dramatically. The number of new cases has risen by nearly 500% in the UK since the 1970s.
The mineral asbestos is the main cause of the more usual pleural mesothelioma. A link between asbestos and lung disease was identified as far back as the 18th century, yet its association with mesothelioma was only discovered around 60 years ago.
In Britain, figures from Cancer Research UK show that more than 9 out of 10 men with mesothelioma and over 8 out of 10 women had been in contact with asbestos.
Asbestos is a group of six minerals made of tiny fibres, and has long been popular in construction for its physical properties such as fire resistance and sound absorption. When those tiny fibres get into the lungs, however, they can trigger mesothelioma even decades after the original exposure to asbestos.
While the use of asbestos in the UK was banned in 1999, it is still found in many old buildings.
As the condition is often diagnosed long after the exposure, the treatments are usually palliative and seek to prolong life rather than cure the condition. Chief among these treatments is chemotherapy, which aims to shrink the cancer; and radiotherapy, which aims to slow its growth.
The Victor Dahdaleh Foundation is committed to combatting mesothelioma, which is why last month we made a record £5million donation to the British Lung Foundation, matching existing UK government funding pound-for-pound, to fund vital research into possible treatments.
Teams at the University of Leicester and Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Cambridge will join forces with the National Mesothelioma Research Centre at Imperial College to search for new treatments and, ultimately, a cure.
The British Lung Foundation will also use the funding to establish a Mesothelioma Research Network, to include the research programmes at Leicester and Papworth in Cambridge together with other specialist mesothelioma centres across the country.
Unlike many other cancers, efforts to understand mesothelioma and the mutations behind it have been neglected and remain at an early stage. With the Foundation’s donation matching UK government funding announced in March 2016, now is the time for national and international collaboration to fast track the research.
We are confident this investment will speed up our progress. While incidence rates in the UK are currently high, they are projected to fall to as few as 3 cases per 100,000 people by 2035. All this means there’s now real hope that we will one day see the eradication of this truly terrible, killer disease.