Keep vigilant about asbestos, doctors told

Asbestos being removed. Photo from

Asbestos being removed. Photo from

Belinda Merhab, AAP

Australians embarking on DIY home renovations are increasingly becoming the victims of asbestos-related disease and doctors are being warned not to become complacent when looking out for it.

Rates of malignant mesothelioma have levelled off in Australia, with around 50 cases per million each year in men, and tenfold less in women.

But the pattern of asbestos exposure among patients with the disease is changing, warns Professor Bill Musk from Perth’s Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

Asbestos-related diseases are increasingly occurring in people who have carried out home renovations without taking proper precautions and unless doctors elicit a history of asbestos exposure from the patient, they may misdiagnose, he says.

‘The production of asbestos has stopped happening and the importation of asbestos has stopped happening so it’s sort of tended to fall off the radar,’ Prof Musk told AAP.

‘But there’s a lot of asbestos around us still and that’s a worry.’

The production and importation of asbestos has been banned in Australia since 2004.

But many houses and fences built in the 1950s and 1960s contain asbestos cement sheets.

Prof Musk, writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, says declining exposure to asbestos means it will be ‘increasingly unlikely’ that clinicians will be mindful of asbestosis and diligent in taking an asbestos-exposure history.

He says asbestosis in particular remains a problem because it’s a form of fibrosis, or scarring, in the lungs, which can be caused by many other diseases.

‘Unless you are sensitive to the history of exposure to asbestos then you may not think of it,’ he says.

‘A doctor who is seeing every complaint under the sun doesn’t necessarily think of that.’

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