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6 March 2014 | Firm News | Article by Simon Ellis

Leading Welsh oncologist specialist calls on public to change perception of causes of lung cancer

Doctor Jason Lester, a leading oncologist specialist from Wales’ largest non-surgical hospital, Velindre Cancer Centre, is this month reminding the public that lung cancer is not always a self-inflicted condition caused by smoking, and is working to highlight that there is a real lack of funding to support those suffering from the deadly disease.

Jason, who works as a Consultant Clinical Oncologist, commented:

“We see many patients on a daily basis who are suffering from lung cancer, but it is not always because they smoked when they were younger. In fact, many of them worked in industry in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and were subsequently exposed to asbestos, harmful dust or fumes decades ago.”

With lung cancer often being diagnosed very late, it has one of the lowest survival outcomes of any type of cancer.

Jason continued:

“The disease is a ticking time bomb as so many people will have been exposed to asbestos or other harmful substances in the last 40 years – meaning that they will develop the disease over the next few years. And whilst many will also have smoked or been a passive smoker, there are many who won’t have smoked and are suffering immensely as a result.”

“Lung cancer is sadly the biggest cancer killer that we see at Velindre Cancer Centre, and research and funding is urgently needed to help improve survival rates and catch the disease before it’s too late. There is a common misconception that people suffering from lung cancer have smoked all their lives or had an unhealthy lifestyle, whereas for breast and bowel cancer there is a lot more public empathy and as a consequence, better funding available for research. However, in every case of lung cancer, it is hard to pinpoint the cause and it actually isn’t invariably a self-inflicted illness in smokers. As such, we are therefore working to raise the profile of lung cancer in the media to encourage the public to change their perceptions.”

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that there are probably about as many asbestos-related lung cancer deaths annually as there are mesothelioma deaths. This implies that there are currently around 2,000 deaths each year in the UK due to asbestos-related lung cancer. The ratio of lung cancers to mesotheliomas is expected to fall over time suggesting less than one asbestos related lung cancer per mesothelioma in the future.

Talking about the prevalence of seeing more and more people being affected by industry-related diseases, Simon Ellis, Partner in the Industrial Disease team, added:

“Speaking about mesothelioma and lung cancer at a recent Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) conference, Dr Phil Barber of Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester revealed that the Relative Risk of mesothelioma is strongly linked to cumulative dosage, with the most at-risk groups being metal plate workers, vehicle body builders, plumbers and gas fitters, closely followed by carpenters, electricians, upholsterers, construction workers and boiler operators.

“We have sadly seen a number of cases where individuals have suffered from deadly lung diseases, including lung cancer, having worked in industry, and fully support Velindre Cancer Centre’s fight to raise awareness that lung cancer is not always a self-inflicted disease. As an example, recently there were a series of test cases at the High Court against the National Coal operating the Phurnacite plant near Aberaman in South Wales. The Court ruled that the Coal Board had not taken all practicable measures to protect employees from the inhalation of dust and fumes at the site. The company finally introduced proper respiratory protection around 1981 but workers had already been exposed to dangerous chemicals for decades.”

In August 2012, former coke oven workers with lung cancer also became entitled to industrial injuries disablement benefit, subject to meeting certain employment related criteria.

This followed a paper issued by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in September 2011 which found that the risk of contracting lung cancer doubled for those employees who worked on the coke ovens for 15 years or more. Those that worked on the oven tops doubled the risk of contracting lung cancer after only five years of employment.

Concluding, Simon said:

“Whilst smoking is undoubtedly a large cause of lung cancer, it is very important to note that if someone smokes and is exposed to asbestos, Many doctors say the increase in risk of them developing lung cancer is more than simply adding the risks together. There are, therefore, many people who have smoked and would not have developed lung cancer if they hadn’t been exposed to asbestos.”

Author bio

Simon Ellis is a Partner with Hugh James and has worked with the firm for more than 25 years, having trained and qualified here. Simon heads up the Military Department, advising and assisting current and former military personnel with various health conditions and injuries. He specialises in claims such as hearing loss, non-freezing cold injuries, compartment syndrome and military injury cases. He is often asked to advise on more unusual claims in the military context.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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