Cancer symptoms: The UK has the ‘highest’ death rate for mesothelioma – signs

Asbestos: Animation shows how fibres can damage lung tissue

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Mesothelioma is diagnosed in around 2,700 people each year in the UK, yet the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has only recently recommended new treatment to be funded by the NHS. The immunotherapy is the first of its kind in over 10 years for the treatment of mesothelioma. Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), a pharmaceutical company, created the treatments: Opdivo® (nivolumab) and Yervoy® (ipilimumab).

Patients in England and Wales, who have “malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM)” may now be offered the immunotherapy treatment.

Liz Darlison, CEO of Mesothelioma UK, said: “Mesothelioma is a devastating and hard to treat disease with people often diagnosed at a late stage and typically facing a poor prognosis.

“This decision from NICE has the potential to change the outlook for patients with MPM.”

The UK has the highest mesothelioma mortality rate globally, which has been attributed to asbestos not being banned until 1999.

What is asbestos?

The British Lung Foundation explained: “Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre that was widely used in construction and other industries until the late 1990s.

“Before its dangers were known, asbestos was often used in buildings for insulation, flooring, roofing, and was sprayed on ceilings and walls.

“Its use is now banned in the UK, but buildings constructed before the year 2000 may still have asbestos in them.”

The charity continued: “If asbestos inside buildings remains intact, it poses very little risk.

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“It’s only when it’s damaged or disturbed that tiny asbestos fibres can be released into the air and enter your lungs when breathing.”

People who have a history of working in construction and shipyard work are at increased risk of mesothelioma.


The NHS stated that mesothelioma mainly affects the lining of the lungs, stomach, heart, or testicles.

The symptoms of mesothelioma typically appear decades after exposure to asbestos.

When the tumour develops in the lungs, symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • A high temperature (fever) and sweating, particularly at night
  • A persistent cough
  • Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • Clubbed (swollen) fingertips.
  • If mesothelioma develops in the lining of the stomach, you might experience:
  • Tummy pain or swelling
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • Diarrhoea or constipation.

“See your GP if you have any persistent or worrying symptoms,” the health body stated.

“Tell them about any exposure to asbestos you may have had in the past.”

Numerous tests will need to be administered before a diagnosis can be made.

Testing might involve an X-ray, CT scan, fluid drainage, and/or a laparoscopy.

Possible treatments include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery.

As with any type of cancer, the sooner a diagnosis is made, the better the prognosis is likely to be.

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