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Artexcancer Warning to DIY Lovers

Artexcancer Warning to DIY Lovers; (1) GoodHealth (2) Asbestos Hidden in Household Ceilings Could Cost Thousands of Lives. The Daily Mail (London, England), February 28, 2006


Byline: ISLA WHITCROFT

HOMEOWNERS with a penchant for DIY have been warned they are at risk from a deadly cancer triggered by asbestos hidden in their homes.

Most houses built from 1950 up until the 1980s contain asbestos in their insulation, heating ducts and drainpipes. It is the fibres from asbestos, especially when it is broken up, that lodge in the pleural cavity around the lungs, causing mesothelioma - and a rapid and painful death.

In their eagerness to renovate their homes, amateur builders and even tradesmen are ripping out these dangerous substances with no idea of the long-term havoc they can cause.

Faced by predictions that the disease is set to claim around 185,000 lives in this country by 2050, the British Lung Foundation has launched an awareness campaign explaining how to recognise asbestos in the home.

Far from being a disease of our industrial past, the rates of mesothelioma are rising. The British Lung Foundation estimates that this year alone around 2,000 people will die from it - around one every five hours.

Between the 1950s and 1980s, asbestos was used in pipe insulation, as a fire and soundproofing agent, and in bath panels, corrugated roofs and storage heaters.

Until it was completely banned in the late 1990s, white asbestos was even used in Artex plaster - one of the first things many DIY-ers want to rip out of their homes.

'If, as a home handyman, you are putting the occasional screw into a wall, then the risk of exposure to asbestos is probably minimal,' says Dr Mark Brittan, consultant physician in respiratory diseases at St Peter's Hospital in Chertsey.

'But if you are thinking about breaking up Artex ceilings or dismantling old asbestos roofs, then that is something that could potentially cause a lot of loose fibres in a short space of time.

'If you are a serious DIY- er, particularly if you work in old buildings, then you should consider all your work in the light of possible exposure to asbestos.' Inhaled asbestos fibres cause a mutation in the DNA of the cells inside the cavity surrounding the lungs and a tumour starts to grow.

At the same time, the mutation destroys the makeup of the cells that would normally see off the tumour. It is a double whammy, which is probably why this is such a rapidly growing cancer.

THERE can be an incubation period of up to 30 years from when the fibres were first inhaled.

However, mesothelioma is often diagnosed only after the patient complains of terrible breathlessness and pain as a result of the tumour squeezing the lungs. From this point, life expectancy is between six months and two years.

This form of cancer seems to be immune to conventional radiotherapy-and chemotherapy treatments-But a few chemotherapy combinations have prolonged life expectancy for several months, and in a couple of cases have managed to shrink - although not remove - the tumour.

In rare cases, if the tumour hasn't spread and is not of the usual aggressive type, it can be surgically removed, with chemotherapy to follow.

However, all treatments have to be weighed against giving the patient the best quality of life for the time he or she has left.

According to Nancy Tait, who runs the Occupational and Environmental Disease Association, DIY-ers should call in the experts.

'When they started pulling down factories that were built with asbestos, the specialist companies provided their workers with full protective clothing and breathing equipment,' says Nancy, who lost her husband Bill, to mesothelioma in 1968. 'Yet in a domestic scenario, people are happily pulling down ceilings, breaking up old storage heaters or ripping out insulation without any form of protection. They are taking a terrifying gamble with their lives.

'If you think you have asbestos in your home, then phone your local environmental office. They should be able to advise you about the nearest specialists who can help you to remove it safely.'

For The British Lung Foundation, go to www.lunguk.org or phone its helpline on 08458 505020.