Mesothelioma is a form of cancer in the mesothelium—the protective lining on the inside of body cavities and the outside of internal organs. In 2018, around 94% of cases reported to the AMR (where tumour location information was available) were pleural mesothelioma, which occurs around the lungs, and 6% of cases were mesothelioma in other areas of the body. More information on the diagnostic characteristics of cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in 2018 is available in Mesothelioma in Australia 2018: Data tables. Despite most commonly occurring in the chest, mesothelioma is not a lung cancer and receives different forms of treatment (Cancer Council 2019a). The predominant cause is exposure to asbestos—a group of naturally occurring fibrous silicate materials that are invisible to the naked eye and can be inhaled into the lungs (AMR 2017) where they do not readily break down.
Each year in Australia, between 700 and 800 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma. In 2018, 699 people died from this rare and aggressive cancer, based on Australian Mesothelioma Registry (AMR) data at 1 May 2019.
Australia has one of the highest measured incidence rates of mesothelioma in the world (Bray et al. 2017). According to analysis of the AMR, the ‘average’ Australian with mesothelioma:
- was male
- was diagnosed at around 75 years of age
- was exposed to asbestos in both occupational and non-occupational settings
- lived for around 11 months after diagnosis.