Experts’ mesothelioma focus

Survival rates for mesothelioma remain very poor, with Australia having one of the highest rates in the world and Western Australia being the country’s hot spot for the disease.

With 710 Australians diagnosed with mesothelioma last year, cancer experts are meeting in Perth this week to discuss the latest evidence at the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) Annual Scientific Meeting.

The latest report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that five-year survival rates from the cancer remain very poor at 5.4 per cent and Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world, with Western Australia having the highest rate in the country.

The result of a trial, led by Professor Anna Nowak of the University of Western Australia, an oncologist who was named Cancer Council WA Researcher of the Year, who has tested the use of an immunotherapy treatment alongside chemotherapy for mesothelioma, is also being presented at the conference.

“Our recent trial showed that an immunotherapy drug can safely be given alongside chemotherapy to extend survival,” she said. “The Australian research has been well received internationally and may change the way mesothelioma is treated if this is confirmed in an upcoming Australian-led international trial.”

The AIHW report says mesothelioma was previously considered to be a disease largely related to occupational asbestos exposure. However, the latest statistics also show that 94 per cent of women and 22 per cent of men diagnosed weren’t exposed at work, suggesting some asbestos exposure is also occurring during activities like home renovations.

“The new report shows why we desperately need more research and better treatment options,” Professor Nowak said. “The conference will delve into the latest evidence on some of the critical issues, like whether all patients should be biopsied, the role of immunotherapy and the role of genetics.”

COSA President Professor Phyllis Butow says mesothelioma is a focus for this year’s conference, alongside gastro-intestinal cancers.

“Among states and territories for which data was available, WA had the highest rate of mesothelioma, so it’s appropriate we are focusing on this type of cancer at our Perth meeting,” she said. “We wanted to gather cancer experts to discuss the latest treatments and evidence, as well as focusing on the perspective of those affected and the support they need.”

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