Malignant mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that commonly develops in the protective linings of the lungs (pleura) or abdomen (peritoneum), and less commonly develops in the heart (pericardium) or testes (tunica vaginalis). Around 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma annually.
The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to a deadly mineral called asbestos. This naturally-occurring material was widely used in blue-collar industries and in the military from the 1930s to the early 1980s due to its resistance to fire, sound, chemicals, and water.
Every branch of the military used asbestos to build structures, vehicles, ships, and more at this time. Other occupations such as firefighters, construction workers, industrial workers, insulators, miners, mechanics, and more were often exposed to asbestos on the job.
Family members and friends were even second handedly exposed to asbestos when their loved ones came home from work and carried stray fibers on their clothing, hair, shoes, and more.
Unfortunately, manufacturers knew the dangers of the mineral but hid the facts from the general public to make a profit – especially during World War II. In turn, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), over 27 million people were exposed to asbestos from 1940 to 1979.
How Mesothelioma Develops:
The individual unknowingly inhales or ingests stray, airborne asbestos fibers.
Asbestos fibers lodge themselves into the linings of an organ.
Fibers damage healthy tissue decades after initial exposure.
Damaged tissue causes tumors to form in the organ lining.
Asbestos has a long latency period. Because of this, mesothelioma does not develop until 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, this puts many occupational workers and veterans that worked from the 1930s to the early 1980s at a greater risk of developing this aggressive disease.
Once mesothelioma is present in the body, it can grow rapidly. Many patients diagnosed with mesothelioma are often diagnosed in the later stages of the disease due to its rapid growth rate.
It is incredibly important our elders know how to protect themselves from asbestos exposure and know the symptoms of mesothelioma. Early detection and diagnosis of this disease can help the patient get mesothelioma treatment as soon as possible and hopefully improve their prognosis.
Three Steps to Take to Protect Yourself From Mesothelioma
1. Avoid Asbestos Exposure
Although millions of Americans were exposed to asbestos unknowingly decades ago, there are several steps you can take today to ensure you protect yourself from developing mesothelioma.
The mineral was often no longer used once the dangers of the mineral were known to the public in the early 1980. Today, many organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognize asbestos as a dangerous mineral.
With that being said, some older houses and workplaces may still contain asbestos today. It is incredibly important to never try to remove asbestos. You can disturb asbestos fibers and put your entire family at risk of exposure.
If you believe your home may contain asbestos, you must hire an asbestos inspector and removal specialist. An inspector will confirm the presence of the mineral in your home and a removal specialist will safely remove the asbestos from your home – keeping your family safe.
The EPA recommends contacting your state asbestos contact if you suspect there is asbestos in your home.
2. Know the Warning Signs
One of the most important ways to protect yourself from developing mesothelioma is to recognize the early warning signs of the disease.
The symptoms of mesothelioma are often mild at first and present themselves as more common, less severe illnesses such as bronchitis, influenza, pneumonia, and more. This can make it easy to misdiagnose mesothelioma. Knowing the signs of the disease and telling your doctor about past asbestos exposure can protect you from the cancer advancing.
Over 80% of mesothelioma cases are pleural mesothelioma and affect the linings of the lung.
Signs of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Chest pain or tightness
- Chronic cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Fluid buildup in the lungs (pleural effusions)
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
About 10% of cases are peritoneal mesothelioma and affect the linings of the abdomen.
Signs of peritoneal mesothelioma include:
- Belly pain
- Blood clots
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Night sweats
- Swelling or fluid in the stomach
- Weight loss
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor and alert them of any prior asbestos exposure to ensure you get the treatment you need.
3. Stay in Good Overall Health
Mesothelioma often has a poor prognosis and an average life expectancy of 1 to 2 years. Many doctors will aim to improve life expectancy through a variety of treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and more.
However, staying in good overall health can help you extend your life. Patients that are active and lead healthy lifestyles may have a better chance at fighting the disease and recovering from aggressive cancer treatment.
Some ways you can stay in good health include:
- Do not smoke
- Eat healthy
- Exercise often
- Get doctor check-ups
- Reduce stress and anxiety
Self-care is incredibly important for all, but even more important if you are fighting a disease like mesothelioma.
Taking the proper precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones from asbestos exposure is the best way to prevent developing mesothelioma.
Never handle asbestos yourself and always call a professional with any concerns about the presence of asbestos in your home or workplace.
Know the signs of mesothelioma, especially if you were exposed decades ago.
Always be sure to contact your doctor if you have any concerns about your health. If you believe you are showing signs of mesothelioma, do not hesitate to contact a medical professional to get a proper diagnosis.
Following these simple steps can hopefully help you and your loved one stays safe and libe long, happy lives.