An Introduction to Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a devastating form of cancer usually linked to the inhalation of asbestos fibers. Asbestos particles are tiny, sharp fibers that are extremely harmful when swallowed or inhaled. These fibers remain in the lungs and abdomen, and work their way to the outer wall of the chest and into the mesothelium membrane. This membrane protects and fixes the organs of the body while allowing for flexibility and providing necessary lubrication. Asbestos can scar the mesothelium, causing tumors that generate pain throughout the body. Although these fibers can be found in low levels everywhere, they become a danger when they are present in abundance. In the 1900s, asbestos was used in many products, including fire retardants, insulation, pipes, cement, roof coatings and other items, many of which can be found in older homes. Ceiling coatings, such as the infamous “popcorn” ceiling, should be considered to contain asbestos. The federal government has banned some asbestos products, but many are still allowed under current law, meaning mesothelioma is an ongoing danger.
Who is at Risk?
This rare cancer usually strikes hardworking men and women who have been exposed to high levels of asbestos, most often elderly males of around 60 years of age who have worked industries marked by continuous, long-term asbestos exposure. According to the American Cancer Society, those in construction, mining, plumbing, shipbuilding and railroad work may be particularly at risk. Their family members may also have a higher risk of contracting this type of cancer due to the asbestos fibers that are carried home on the worker’s clothing.
In some instances, none of the usual risk factors are present and the source of the cancer is a mystery. For the most part, mesothelioma can be traced to the inhalation of tiny asbestos fibers into the lungs where they eventually cause cells to mutate and ultimately become malignant. The disease often takes years and even decades to fully develop.
Asbestos in the Workplace
Although the environment may contribute to other cancers, mesothelioma perhaps has the strongest connection to the workplace. Those with the condition who were not protected by federal laws are in need of excellent legal advice as well as medical help. This battle is not one victims can fight alone.
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Each year, approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with this cancer. While it most commonly strikes senior men, women can also contract the disease. Once diagnosed, a mesothelioma patient has approximately one to two years to live on average, although some manage to live five years or longer, depending on their age and overall health.
The horrifying nature of this condition means the patient and their family often have little time to plan for the future and end up struggling with monumental medical bills and an uncertain future.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma symptoms can be difficult to detect because they are often minor and can be attributed to common conditions, like the flu or the common cold. People with these symptoms tend to ignore them or attempt to treat them at home for a long period of time. By the time patients do see a doctor, their condition may be far advanced. Many patients are not diagnosed until the disease is advanced, especially if they are not proactive with their health.
The two most common types of Mesothelioma cancer:
Symptoms include a cough, fatigue, fever, shortness of breath, extreme sweating, unexpected weight loss, hoarseness, and trouble swallowing. Sufferers may also feel a pain in the lower back or in the side of the chest. While these symptoms can indicate a variety of conditions, they are an indicator of a serious health problem.
The second type of mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, affects the lining of the abdomen. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, unexpected weight loss and a swollen belly. Sufferers may also experience fluid buildup, blood clots, and anemia.
Early Detection Is Key
Those who have been exposed to asbestos may not experience any symptoms until decades down the road. By the time malignant mesothelioma is diagnosed, the patient likely has less than a year to live. If the condition is caught early, treatments may raise the life expectancy to two years or more. In 20 percent of cases, patients can live for five years. At this point, however, mesothelioma is almost always fatal.
Anyone who has worked in a high-risk profession for this cancer should have regular checkups and seek medical attention as soon as any symptoms develop. If a cough lingers, the patient needs to seek treatment.
Other medical conditions can be caused by asbestos in addition to mesothelioma. When the asbestos fibers collect in the body, the irritation they cause can, over time, result in serious medical issues other than mesothelioma, most notably, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Where Does Exposure to Asbestos Occur?
There was a day when asbestos was present in every home and business in the United States. Insulation and heat-protectant materials were the biggest culprits. Following World War II, the construction industry was in full-speed mode, and asbestos was used in nearly every type of household and industrial products, including glues, shingles, drywall, cement, wiring, adhesives, and ceiling tiles.
Many of these products are still in older structures today, and they are typically harmless if they are left alone and not disturbed. Asbestos mostly affected workers, including electricians, firefighters, demolition workers, contractors, and plumbers. In addition, many of their family members were also exposed through secondary exposure when clothing and other items that were laden with the toxic substance were brought into their homes.
High Risk Occupations
Those who daily work directly with asbestos or products that contain asbestos are at the greatest risk. Other workers that are at a particularly high risk include boiler workers, industrial workers, auto mechanics, and insulators.
Those who work construction or craft industries can be exposed to asbestos, particularly if they do work on older buildings and homes that were constructed with the cancer-causing minerals. Demolitions, renovations, or remodeling projects are of particular concern. If the insulation within those buildings is made with asbestos, the particles will become airborne and will contaminate anyone in the area who inhales them.