More needs to be done to ensure people who suffer from asbestos-related cancer are seen by specialist doctors, a new report has suggested.

The audit of mesothelioma cases highlighted variations in care across England and Wales.

Mesothelioma, a cancer involving the outer membrane of the lung, is a relatively rare cancer which is mostly found in older men who worked in jobs which may have led them to be exposed to asbestos such as plumbing, electrical-installation, ship-building and railway-engineering.

The report, published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, provides data on the care of 8,700 patients diagnosed between 2008 and 2012.

While the authors stressed that the data should be interpreted with caution because only a small number of patients were diagnosed in each region, they said there appeared to be a “wide variation” in the approach to diagnosis and treatment.

The proportion of patients fit enough to receive chemotherapy varied from 20 per cent to 60 per cent depending on where a patient lived, they found.

Around one in five patients were referred to cancer services after presenting at the hospital as an emergency case - which could mean their cancer was at a more advanced stage - but this figure varied across the country with emergency referral only accounting for 10 per cent of cases in some areas and 40% in others.

In his forward to the report, clinical lead Mick Peake, said: “The report, for the first time, begins to show the level of variation in diagnosis, treatment and survival for mesothelioma by geographical area in England and Wales and perhaps the most worrying feature of the report is the wide range of this variation across the cancer networks.

“For example, the proportion of patients first admitted to secondary care as an emergency varied four-fold from 10 per cent to 40 per cent by network and the proportion of fit patients who are receiving chemotherapy ranged from 20 per cent to 60 per cent.

“Mesothelioma remains an uncommon cancer in many areas of the country and more needs to be done to ensure that every patient is fully assessed by an experienced and dedicated team of specialist clinicians.”