The United Kingdom possesses one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world, largely because the UK government permitted the use of asbestos long after other countries outlawed the mineral’s use.
In addition to permitting the use of asbestos, shipbuilders historically are among the people most affected by mesothelioma, and the shipbuilding industry plays a large role in the history of the United Kingdom, especially around the time of World War II.
The cause of the disease is linked to asbestos exposure, and shipbuilding throughout the world featured hundreds of asbestos products used for insulation, including those vessels used in the British Armed Forces. The material was considered ideal for use aboard ships until the 1980s. Asbestos could be found in the engine and boiler rooms, as well as in the walls, floors and ceilings of rooms such as the sleeping quarters and the galley. Shipbuilders and those who served on military vessels could have inhaled airborne asbestos fibers while working on the ships.
In 2013, a total of 2,538 UK residents died from mesothelioma, and from 2011 to 2013 — the last year in which figures are available — the UK’s mesothelioma rates rose to 68.2 per million for men and 12.7 per million for women.
However, researchers acknowledge it is possible the percentage of people contracting mesothelioma in the UK is the same now as it was then, but tracking the disease is now much better.
As in the majority of countries, most UK residents who die from the disease are older than 65, though some younger individuals have been diagnosed because of secondhand exposure and indirect contact with asbestos materials. Men comprise about 80 percent of people who receive a mesothelioma diagnosis in the UK, which also fits the worldwide profile for the cancer.
However, the annual number of deaths among women has increased more rapidly than the increase among men over the last 10 years. Figures for women rose 68 percent in the last decade, compared to 35 percent for men. Women are often exposed to asbestos indirectly by living in areas near asbestos factories or coming into contact with people who worked with asbestos.