Wives victim to cancer from asbestos on husband's clothes
Women who were exposed to deadly asbestos from the fibres and dust brought home on the work clothes of their tradesmen husbands are among the victims of an aggressive form of cancer.
A new report has provided fresh insights into cases of mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, chest cavity, or abdomen.
Asbestos was used in construction, motor and other industries for generations but, when it is disturbed, tiny fibres are released into the air and if breathed in they can become trapped in people's lungs for years.
An average of 24 people are newly diagnosed annually with mesothelioma, which can take up to 60 years to develop after first exposure.
Men are over five times more likely to be diagnosed than women – but many of the female patients are the wives of tradesmen such as electricians and carpenters who would have brought home the asbestos fibres from work.
A report from the National Cancer Registry said: "Secondary exposure to asbestos is more probable in women, who are less likely to have direct work-related exposure.
"90pc of female mesothelioma patients were, or had been, married compared to 81pc of female lung cancer patients (where secondary exposure to tobacco is also an important risk factor) and 77pc of all female cancer patients."
The majority of the patients are between the ages of 60 and 80 when diagnosed, with roughly one third in their 60s and a similar portion in their 70s. However, 18pc of women were aged under 50 at diagnosis, compared to just 3pc of male patients. Only 10pc of all patients were aged 80 or older.
"In Ireland, asbestos was mostly used from the 1960s to the mid-1980s. It was banned on a phased basis under legislation in 1994 and 1998 and a general prohibition on its use was introduced under EU regulations in 2004," said the report.
It estimated that the numbers of Irish people who will develop the disease annually will grow and the annual incidence in 2020 will be as high as 68.
There is no cure for mesothelioma although it is subject to several clinical trials. But treatment can slow down the disease and ease symptoms.
Chemotherapy was the most common treatment overall and there has been a clear increase in the proportion of patients treated over time.
Pleural mesothelioma has a very poor prognosis and the five-year survival rate in Ireland for all patients diagnosed between 1994 and 2009 was 4.5pc.
The Health and Safety Authority said that asbestos is now banned, but products or materials containing asbestos, which were already installed or in service, can remain in place until they are disposed of or reach the end of their service life.
As a result, there is still potential for exposure to asbestos in a variety of workplaces due to the large quantities of the material used in buildings in the past.
As long as the asbestos is in good condition and there is no disturbance or damage to the asbestos containing material, it will not pose a risk to health as fibres will not be released.
• Irish Cancer Society helpline: 1800 200 700.
• Mesothelioma: UK 0044 116 2583739 (charged at normal rates for calls to the UK).
Health & Living