• Asbestos materials remain in one-in-three homes built or renovated in Australia prior to 1987. (AAP)Source: AAP
Nearly 700 Australians died last year from mesothelioma - an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure - but the figure may continue to rise.
28 Aug 2019 - 9:40 AM  UPDATED 28 Aug 2019 - 9:42 AM

Close to 700 Australians died from an aggressive cancer typically caused by exposure to asbestos last year, 15 years on from the building material's ban.

Data released on Wednesday from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has revealed there were also 662 new diagnoses of mesothelioma last year.

The youngest person diagnosed was 22 while the oldest was 101.

Institute spokesman Justin Harvey said hundreds of Australians are diagnosed with the disease each year, despite asbestos being banned in the nation since 2004.

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The cancer occurs in the mesothelium, a protective lining on the inside of body cavities, as well as the outside of internal organs.

"Due to its aggressive nature, most cases of mesothelioma have a poor prognosis," Mr Harvey said.

The number of deaths last year from mesothelioma currently sits at 699, but the figure may rise as the Australian Mesothelioma Registry is notified of more fatalities.

The registry has monitored cases of the aggressive and fatal form of cancer since 2010.

New South Wales has had the highest number of people (923) diagnosed with mesothelioma between 2015 and 2018, followed by Victoria (642) and Queensland (586).

Although the number of diagnoses in Western Australia sits in the middle of the national figures, the rates per population are well above the national average.

The registry, funded by Safe Work Australia, says the average profile of an Australian with mesothelioma is male, who was exposed to asbestos through both work and non-work settings before being diagnosed at 75 years.

On average, people will only live for about 11 months after diagnosis.

A survey of close to 1000 people with mesothelioma has found 93 per cent had possible or probable exposure to asbestos.

A large amount of asbestos remains in Australian buildings, as it was used in construction due to its durability and resistance to fire and chemicals.

Its use peaked during 1970 to 1979.

A separate study released in 2016 found that WA'S Indigenous population has the highest rate of mesothelioma deaths in the world.

Researchers from the University of Western Australia found that 67 per cent of mesothelioma cases in WA's Aboriginal population were a result of the mining of asbestos in the Pilbara town, compared with fewer than 25 per cent of cases in the general population.

Wittenoom is now a ghost town, closed down in 1966 because of health concerns and de-gazetted by the WA Government in 2007.

With AAP