Skip to main content

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer with a terminal prognosis caused by asbestos exposure. Accounting for fewer than 1% of all cancers, it affects the mesothelial cells, which make up the mesothelium, the membrane that lines the outer surface of most organs. Malignancy develops slowly, with a latency period ranging from 10-50 years.1

What is Asbestos?

A mineral with fibrous crystalline structures that has been mined and used by humans for thousands of years for its pliability, strength and insulative qualities. Often referred to as the ‘Hidden Killer’, asbestos fibres are 200 times thinner than human hair and have no taste or smell.

Asbestos was nationally banned in Australia in 2003. Australia has one of the highest incidence rates of mesothelioma in the world, with 642 new cases reported to the Australian Mesothelioma Registry in 2020. This is an unfortunate consequence of the booming asbestos mining industry and widespread use of asbestos-containing products in the last century.2,3

Who is at risk of mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma potentially affects anyone who has been exposed to asbestos. It is preventable, therefore raising awareness is an important aspect of asbestos related disease management.

Occupational exposure

Occupational exposure primarily happens in a workplace setting. People who worked with the raw material or with asbestos-containing products are at the highest risk of developing mesothelioma.

Environmental exposure

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, therefore people who are exposed to the natural dust in the ground, live near old asbestos mines or exposed at home are at risk of developing mesothelioma.

Secondhand exposure

Household members of people working with asbestos containing products can be exposed. This includes the partners, children and siblings who for example washed the dust covered clothing of workers or cleaned workspaces that has resulted in exposure to asbestos/dust fibres and have developed mesothelioma.

Renovation exposure

There is a growing body of evidence that more people are being diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of non-occupational exposure to asbestos fibres and dust during DIY home renovations and demolitions. Most homes built before 1990 are likely to contain asbestos products. This applies also to farm and rural properties.


  1. Shavelle R, Vavra-Musser K, Lee J, Brooks J. Life expectancy in pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. Lung Cancer International. 2017; 2017:1-8.
  2. Musk AB, Klerk N, Brims FJ. Mesothelioma in Australia: A Review. Medical Journal of Australia. 2017;207(10):449-452.
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Mesothelioma in Australia 2020. Updated October 28 2021.