Study targets cancer rates

Researchers will base further study on the long-term health effects of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire on the understanding men and women of the Latrobe Valley have higher rates of certain cancers than expected for people in rural and regional areas across the state.

The recently-released background analysis in the Hazelwood Health Study reveals, prior to the mine fire, Latrobe Valley men had higher rates of mesothelioma and bladder cancer compared to the expected rate for regional and rural Victoria.

Latrobe Valley women also had higher rates of liver, lung and overall blood cancers prior to the mine fire compared to the rest of rural and regional Victoria, according to the analysis.

Monash University researcher Professor Malcolm Sim said the research looked at the three surrounding local government areas of Baw Baw, Wellington and South Gippsland and found no higher rates of any types of cancers in those shires.

“So the results in Latrobe Valley really stuck out in this region,” Professor Sim said.

The analysis examined data from the Victorian Cancer Registry from January 2009 to December 2013 and the results will form a baseline for further study on cancer patterns following the mine fire.

Professor Sim said while the overall rates of cancer were no different to the rest of rural Victoria, there was an higher rates of mesothelioma in Latrobe Valley men and this was clearly from previous asbestos exposure.

“There’s been quite a lot of asbestos exposure in the Valley, in the power industry, but also potentially in people’s homes as well,” Professor Sim said.

He said Monash University ran the Australian Mesothelioma Registry and was able to document the ongoing issue right across Australia.

“Domestic exposure is becoming a more important cause of mesothelioma these days than some of these occupational exposures in the past,” Professor Sim said.

Asbestos Council of Victoria/GARDS chief executive Vicki Hamilton said her organisation was noting increased numbers of people exposed to asbestos in the domestic scene.

“It’s not just happening here, it’s happening all over Australia,” Ms Hamilton said.

She said there could be a drop off of asbestos exposure rates in the Latrobe Valley in the future due to the closure of power stations, however people should keep an eye on their health.

“Talk to your doctor and you really just need to be vigilant to any changes in your health. That’s really all you can do at this present stage,” Ms Hamilton said.

Professor Sim said he was not surprised at the elevated levels of mesothelioma in the analysis, however he did not expect to observe an excess of liver cancer in Latrobe Valley women.

“Some of these could be chance findings because when you do a lot of analyses, some things just pop up, so we’ll be very interested to look at the next round of data extractions to see whether these findings are consistent over time,” Professor Sim said.

The Monash researchers will continue to extract data from the Victorian Cancer Registry to monitor cancer trends following the mine fire.

He said the other notable findings from the analysis were more difficult to explain and the researchers did not have data on smoking rates, which are related to bladder and lung cancer.

To view a summary of these findings, visit or to view the full technical report, visit