New report published on impact of asbestos-related cancer on healthcare professionals

A study into the impact of asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma on healthcare professionals has been completed and a report outlining the results and recommendations is now available.

The MAGS study was carried out by researchers at the University of Sheffield and funded by national charity, Mesothelioma UK, alongside donations from the family and friends of the late Dr Mags Portman, a pioneer in the fight to prevent and control HIV, who died of mesothelioma in 2019. 

Mesothelioma is a cancer related to exposure to asbestos and predominantly affects the lining of the lungs. The UK has the highest incidence of the disease in the world with around 2,700 people diagnosed each year.

With many NHS hospital buildings containing some asbestos, the study aimed to explore the experiences of healthcare workers in the UK with mesothelioma and to develop recommendations for increasing awareness of the risk to healthcare workers.

Recommendations from the study include the need to get a more accurate picture of the extent of mesothelioma amongst healthcare staff, that awareness of asbestos risk should be added to the mandatory training for new members of NHS staff, and that special consideration should be given to the communication of the diagnosis.

Through patient interviews, literature reviews, and data analysis researchers examined the experiences of presentation, diagnosis, treatment, and care of healthcare staff with mesothelioma. Participants included both clinical staff, such as doctors and nurses, and non-clinical staff, such as medical secretaries, cleaners, porters, and maintenance staff.

A report detailing the findings and recommendations is now available at

Dr Peter Allmark, the lead researcher for MAGS at the University of Sheffield said: “The healthcare workers I interviewed were people who’d worked many years caring for others. That they had either certainly, or probably been exposed to asbestos at work and become seriously ill as a result was deeply upsetting. Their wish is that this project will help healthcare workers avoid this in future.”

Professor Angela Tod, Division of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Sheffield comments:“MAGS provides valuable insight into the nature of asbestos exposure for people working in healthcare environments. It also indicates we are currently under-estimating the numbers of people who have developed mesothelioma after working in a range of health-related occupations. We hope MAGS will inform future action to reduce risk of asbestos exposure and improve the care of healthcare workers who develop mesothelioma.”

Liz Darlison, Head of Services for Mesothelioma UK added: “We’re learning that mesothelioma doesn’t just affect people who worked in areas typically associated with asbestos exposure such as the construction or shipping industries. People are exposed to asbestos in many of our public buildings such as hospitals and schools.

“Mesothelioma UK will ensure that this research raises awareness of the risk of exposure to healthcare staff and hopefully, improve the treatment and care given to them by medical teams and support agencies. Dr Mags Portman was a huge inspiration and I would like to say a personal thank you to her family friends who supported this study.”

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