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Volume 406: debated on Friday 23 May 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what relative priority his Department has placed on (a) treatment and (b) research into treatment for cancer patients whose condition has been caused by exposure to asbestos; [114828](2) what estimate he has made of the number of people in the UK likely to die from cancers caused by exposure to asbestos over the next 20 years; [114833](3) what action he is taking to ensure that cancer patients whose condition has been caused by exposure to asbestos receive proper and sufficient medical attention; [114830](4) what assessment he has made of the new treatments available in countries other than the UK to cancer patients whose condition has been caused by exposure to asbestos. [114829]

At present, around 4,000 people die each year in the United Kingdom from asbestos related disease (ARD); approximately 1,600 from mesothelioma and most of the rest from lung cancer related to asbestos exposure.Mesothelioma is expected to increase in frequency over the next 20 years. Based on prediction models, the number of male mesothelioma deaths is expected to peak at around 1,700 in 2011 with female mesothelioma deaths peaking at around 240 around the same time.Preventing exposure to asbestos is the most effective way of tackling asbestos related disease. We are taking action on this.There are a number of clinical trials relating to the treatment of mesothelioma in progress. The national health service is currently providing infrastructure and service support costs for two mesothelioma trials currently underway through the National Cancer Research Network.We are keeping a close eye on these trials to determine when the development of clinical guidelines on mesothelioma might be appropriate. Such guidelines would take account of worldwide evidence on the treatment and management of this disease.We are also taking action to improve services for lung cancer patients. 5,000 patients are now able to benefit from the new generation cancer drugs approved by National Institute for Clinical Excellence. Clinical guidelines for the diagnosis and management of lung cancer are also being developed by NICE and are due for publication next year. 98.2 per cent. of patients with suspected lung cancer are now seen by a specialist within two weeks of being urgently referred by their general practitioner.The NHS Cancer Plan set out the first ever comprehensive strategy to tackle cancer from prevention through to palliative care. The Cancer Plan is being supported by unprecedented levels of funding. All cancer patients, including those with mesothelioma and lung cancer, should benefit from the implementation of this plan.