Apartheid's last president De Klerk reveals cancer diagnosis on 85th birthday

Mesothelioma is a cancer caused by asbestos. It most commonly occurs in the linings of the lungs or the abdomen.

FILE: Former apartheid president FW de Klerk. Picture: Abigail Javier/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG - Apartheid's last president FW de Klerk announced on Thursday that he was diagnosed with cancer.

The FW de Klerk Foundation revealed the illness in a statement on its website. De Klerk turned 85 on Thursday.

"Former President FW de Klerk announced at his 85th birthday today that he has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is a cancer that affects the tissue that lines the lungs."

The foundation said that he would begin immunotherapy next week.

"There is no immediate threat and we are confident that the treatment will be successful."

According to mesothelioma.com, it is a cancer caused by asbestos. It most commonly occurs in the linings of the lungs or the abdomen.

"The average life expectancy is 18 – 31 months after diagnosis, but prognosis may improve with treatment. Symptoms can include chest pain, shortness of breath and general fatigue," the site reads.

De Klerk's presidency came to an end when the first democratic election was held in South Africa in 1994. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Nelson Mandela - South Africa's first democratically elected president - in 1993.

South Africa has rich reserves of asbestos, which was mined during the 19th century and during apartheid. South Africa was the third-largest exporter of asbestos in the world for more than a century. Former residents of asbestos mining regions suffer, and continue to suffer, the effects of the asbestos-related disease.

Asbestos was banned from use in 2008. It was prized for its heatproof and fireproof qualities and was used to build homes during apartheid.

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