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Asbestos cancer victims 'ignored'

Victims often die within a few years of diagnosis

9 March, 2005 - People suffering from a cancer caused by asbestos exposure are being neglected, campaigners say. Mesothelioma kills 1,800 people a year - more than cervical cancer - but there is no cure and treatment only relieves the symptoms.

A British Lung Foundation conference is due to demand that ministers invest more money into research and improve access to compensation.

The Department of Health said it was reviewing current treatment practices.

People with mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer which is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos, often die within a year or so of diagnosis.

The disease can take years to develop after exposure to asbestos.

"The government needs to take a two-pronged approach towards mesothelioma - improve the current treatments available and offer proper compensation", Liz Darlison, of Mesothelioma UK

The number of annual deaths from mesothelioma has been steadily increasing since the early 1960s when a couple of hundred a year died.

The death rate is expected to keep rising until 2015. By 2050 90,000 people are expected to have died from the cancer.

Victims who were exposed to asbestos at their workplace are entitled to compensation from government, while those who were exposed by other means can get money under common law.

British Lung Foundation chief executive Dame Helena Shovelton said she wanted the conference to "put mesothelioma on the map".

"Mesothelioma is a particularly cruel disease because sufferers simply contract it through their choice of job, where they live, who they live with or in some way they could never have known about.

'Not good enough'

"The government needs to make it more of a priority, it was hardly mentioned in the 2000 Cancer Plan and victims are basically told there is nothing that can be done for them.

"This is distressing for those diagnosed with the cancer and simply is not good enough. It would not happen with any other cancer.

"It also needs to be easier for people to access compensation. When you are diagnosed it is not easy or a first priority to go about getting compensation."

And Liz Darlison, of support group Mesothelioma UK, said one of the problems was that not many health professionals were fully aware of the disease.

"The government needs to take a two-pronged approach towards mesothelioma - improve the current treatments available and offer proper compensation."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said ministers had set up a lung cancer advisory group to help improve the delivery of services.

She added: "A subgroup has been set up specially to look at this type of cancer.

"it will recommend what action should be taken to tackle this particular cancer including service organisation, treatment and awareness raising, and will be making an initial report to the wider advisory group in April."

'Asbestos cancer killed my husband'

Mick Knighton died seven months after being diagnosed

Campaigners say victims of mesothelioma - a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos - are being neglected.

A woman speaks about how her husband was treated when he was diagnosed and what she wants to see done now.

9 March, 2005 - Mick Knighton was a fit and healthy 59-year-old when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma in August 2000. Within seven months he was dead.

"It happened so suddenly," said his wife, Chris. "When Mick was diagnosed he was told he had just months left and there was no treatment, no cure. He was just left.

"There is going to be a asbestos timebomb, and we need to be in a position to provide better treatment than we do now", Chris Knighton said. "It was terrible, you just think there would be more help."

Mr Knighton, from Tyne and Wear, did have his lungs drained and a course of radiotherapy, but his wife said that was purely to relieve the symptoms.

"It was nothing more than palliative care."

Following his death, Mrs Knighton set up the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund, which has raised £100,000 so far.

But she said it was time for the government to take the lead.

"We really need to spend more money investing in research.

"There is going to be an asbestos timebomb, more and more people will die of mesothelioma, and we need to be in a position to provide better treatment than we do now."

She also believes access to compensation needs to be reformed.

Mr Knighton was exposed to asbestos while he was in the Royal Navy where it was used in ships.

But despite working for the navy his entire life, he was not entitled to compensation as the military services have crown immunity.

Mrs Knighton said: "Compensation just wasn't available to us. I know of other military personnel who are affected by the disease and yet there is no compensation for people who have given their lives to serving their country.

"There should be some way round this."

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