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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 March, 2005, 00:57 GMT
Asbestos cancer victims 'ignored'
Surgeons examine a chest x-ray
Victims often die within a few years of diagnosis
People suffering from a cancer caused by asbestos exposure are being neglected, campaigners say.

Mesothelioma kills 1,800 people a year - more than cervical cancer - but there is no cure and treatment only relieves the symptoms.

A British Lung Foundation conference is due to demand that ministers invest more money into research and improve access to compensation.

The Department of Health said it was reviewing current treatment practices.

People with mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer which is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos, often die within a year or so of diagnosis.

The disease can take years to develop after exposure to asbestos.

The government needs to take a two-pronged approach towards mesothelioma - improve the current treatments available and offer proper compensation
Liz Darlison, of Mesothelioma UK

The number of annual deaths from mesothelioma has been steadily increasing since the early 1960s when a couple of hundred a year died.

The death rate is expected to keep rising until 2015. By 2050 90,000 people are expected to have died from the cancer.

Victims who were exposed to asbestos at their workplace are entitled to compensation from government, while those who were exposed by other means can get money under common law.

British Lung Foundation chief executive Dame Helena Shovelton said she wanted the conference to "put mesothelioma on the map".

"Mesothelioma is a particularly cruel disease because sufferers simply contract it through their choice of job, where they live, who they live with or in some way they could never have known about.

'Not good enough'

"The government needs to make it more of a priority, it was hardly mentioned in the 2000 Cancer Plan and victims are basically told there is nothing that can be done for them.

"This is distressing for those diagnosed with the cancer and simply is not good enough. It would not happen with any other cancer.

"It also needs to be easier for people to access compensation. When you are diagnosed it is not easy or a first priority to go about getting compensation."

And Liz Darlison, of support group Mesothelioma UK, said one of the problems was that not many health professionals were fully aware of the disease.

"The government needs to take a two-pronged approach towards mesothelioma - improve the current treatments available and offer proper compensation."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said ministers had set up a lung cancer advisory group to help improve the delivery of services.

She added: "A subgroup has been set up specially to look at this type of cancer.

"it will recommend what action should be taken to tackle this particular cancer including service organisation, treatment and awareness raising, and will be making an initial report to the wider advisory group in April."

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