Australia is bracing for an expected new wave of mesothelioma cases in the next decade and the Lung Foundation of Australia is taking action now to get ready.
The Foundation has paid for ten nurses from around the country to receive specialized training in helping patients and families cope with mesothelioma. The nurses, who have recently completed the training, are now equipped to lead treatment planning for these complex cancer patients and to help other nurses do the same.
Pleural mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that occurs in the lining around the lungs. It is caused by exposure to asbestos dust, a toxin that was once alarmingly prevalent in Australia where it was mined and heavily used in construction. Because mesothelioma has a latency period of as long as 40 or 50 years, hundreds of people who were exposed to the dust in the 70s and 80s may just now be getting sick. Many more are at risk for developing mesothelioma because of their current exposure to asbestos present in aging buildings and in other asbestos containing products.
The Lung Foundation’s specialized nurse training was delivered through a voluntary year-long online course. The new graduates will make up the newly-announced “Asbestos Related Disease and Pleural Mesothelioma Nurses Special Interest Group”. The Lung Foundation intends for them to lead mesothelioma treatment and awareness efforts in their communities as well as advocate for other nurses to undergo the specialty training.
Mesothelioma is unique among cancers in that its cause can usually be pinpointed (asbestos) but there is no standardized treatment. Early symptoms of mesothelioma such as chest pain, cough, and shortness of breath, can be vague, often delaying diagnosis until the disease is in its later stages when treatment is less effective. In addition, the sheet-like shape of mesothelioma tumors makes cytoreductive surgery and radiotherapy challenging at best.
It is hoped that the specially-trained nurses will not only lead the effort to help patients and families handle the unique problems of mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment, but may also be able to help them connect with novel therapies through participation in clinical trials. There are 500-1,000 new cases of mesothelioma in Australia every year and the incidence of the disease is expected to increase by 79% by 2020.
“Lung Foundation Australia launches National Mesothelioma Nurse Special Interest Group”, November 22, 2013, News Release, Lung Foundation website.
Macdonald, Emma, “Specialist nurses ready for surge of cancer from asbestos”, December 9, 2013, The Canberra Times.