A New National Tracking System for Mesothelioma

A new national mesothelioma registry will provide government, policy advisers and researchers with the most detailed information yet on patterns and trends in the incidence of the disease.

The Australian Mesothelioma Registry will collect data on all new cases of mesothelioma as well as detailed information on patients’ past exposure to asbestos.

Launched by a consortium of asbestos interest groups, led by the Cancer Institute NSW, the AMR will link state and territory cancer registry data with asbestos exposure information collected using state-of-the-art technology developed by Monash University.

Cancer Institute NSW project manager Anna Burnham said the registry would provide the most comprehensive source of information on mesothelioma and asbestos exposure in Australia to date.

It replaces the Australian Mesothelioma Register, which was suspended in 2007 when reporting levels fell to less than 50 per cent.

“The previous register had voluntary reporting of cases but it fell into a gradual decline when new privacy legislation made it difficult to access information,” Ms Burnham said. “It therefore underestimated the number of cases of mesothelioma.”

Funded by Safe Work Australia (SWA), the new registry will help to guide future health policy decisions.

SWA chairman Tom Phillips said: “It is important that we track progress of this disease caused by Australia’s high use of asbestos in the past. Through the collection of more detailed information, the new registry will provide important information on the types and levels of exposure to asbestos that typically result in mesothelioma.

“This extra information will aid Safe Work Australia and the Australian government to develop policies for best dealing with the legacy of asbestos in our buildings and other infrastructure.”

The registry will also bring together experts in asbestos-related disease, including Professor Nico van Zandwijk, the inaugural director of the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute in Sydney, and Sydney University health expert Professor Bruce Armstrong.

Prof Armstrong said the AMR was an important development in the fight against asbestos-related diseases.

“We do have some uncertainty about where the disease is going to trend,” he said.

“One of the uncertainties is the extent to which asbestos is a hazard in our everyday environment and as the asbestos deteriorates over time whether there is going to be an increase in the incidence of mesothelioma from this source. The registry will help through measuring rates but it will also tell us the circumstances through which people are getting their asbestos exposure.”

The revamped registry began officially collecting information from July 1 but expects to be up and running in real time from January 1 next year.

By Catherine Madden