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Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that begins in the mesothelium, the membrane that covers and protects many of the body’s internal organs. It is most common in the pleura, the outer lining of the lungs and internal chest, and starts as malignant cells develop within the mesothelium. Once this happens, the malignant cells spread extraordinarily quickly and most cases result in death within 12-18 months of diagnosis. 

What causes mesothelioma?

It is caused nearly always by exposure to asbestos dust particles and is a common form of cancer suffered by many who work / worked in dockyards or as insulation engineers, maintenance workers and builders as well as those who were exposed during service in the military. There are also cases where those who have been in contact with the contaminated clothing of relatives have contracted the cancer. Due to the latency of the cancer it may not appear for 20-30 years after exposure. 

Help and Support

Every person and their family affected by mesothelioma will require a great deal of support and networks range from Mesothelioma UK (www.mesothelioma.uk.com/) and Forum of Asbestos Victims Support Groups (www.asbestosforum.org/) to the Department of Work and Pensions (www.dwp.gov.uk) when benefits may be claimed if mesothelioma has developed by exposure to asbestos dust at work.

Additionally if mesothelioma has been contracted as a result of negligence or breach of duty during the course of employment then a claim for damages against the employer (s) may be brought. Likewise, if the exposure is a result of coming into contact with contaminated clothing of those exposed during an employment even if the affected individual did not work with asbestos.


According to the most recent statistics published by the Health & Safety Executive, Cumbria and the North East are amongst the worst affected areas. Barrow in Furness in particular has the second highest mortality rate from mesothelioma in the UK.  Newcastle, North Tyneside, Sunderland and South Tyneside are also in the top 20 worst areas.

The worst affected occupations were Carpenters and joiners, Plumbers / heating and ventilating engineers and Electricians / electrical fitters.

¹Source: Mesothelioma Mortality in Great Britain: Analyses by Geographical Area and Occupation 2005 published by the Health & Safety Executive. Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/mesothelioma-mortality-in-great-britain-1968-to-2015

About the author

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Nick Gutteridge

Nick Gutteridge is Burnetts' Managing Partner.

Published: Thursday 12th May 2011
Categorised: Serious Injury

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