Recognizing Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure for Mesothelioma Awareness Day
September 26th marks the 17th anniversary of Mesothelioma Awareness Day, a time to raise awareness and educate others about this cancer. While it’s considered a rare disease, it is one of the only cancers that is non-genetic, therefore being completely preventable. Asbestos exposure is the only cause of mesothelioma, however asbestos can lead to other severe respiratory illnesses as well. With increased education around where asbestos exposure is prevalent, diseases like mesothelioma can be mitigated.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer that is diagnosed in about 3,000 individuals annually. Tumors begin to form in the lining of critical organs, most commonly occurring in the lungs or abdomen of patients. Due to the latency period of this disease, symptoms usually don’t arise in individuals for decades, sometimes as much as 50 years. Symptoms of mesothelioma includes:
- Chest pain
- Coughing or wheezing
- Difficulty breathing
- Fatigue and muscle weakness
Because these symptoms are similar to several other types of common respiratory issues, identifying mesothelioma poses its challenges. Due to the rarity of this cancer, only specialists are experienced in the mesothelioma diagnostic process. This gap of knowledge among medical professionals can hinder an initial diagnosis. The average prognosis of a mesothelioma diagnosis is around 12-21 months, however this can be prolonged with a fast-tracked treatment plan beginning immediately after the cancer is identified.
What Causes Mesothelioma?
Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that was once used in thousands of different consumer and building products due to its tenacity against heat and erosion. Because it was cost effective and easily accessible to source, it was heavily used in several different labor industries up until the 1980s. It was only until individuals started seeing the detrimental health effects from this material that more action was taken to prevent inhaling this material.
Asbestos fibers are microscopic and needle-like, invisible to the naked eye. While asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) don’t pose a threat if left undisturbed, it becomes a health hazard when products are damaged, releasing fibers into the air. These fibers can be inhaled or ingested, where they become embedded in the body and create inflammation and tissue damage. Mesothelioma is not the only disease that comes from asbestos exposure, individuals who come into contact with the material may also be diagnosed with asbestosis or lung cancer, which are serious health conditions as well.
Where is Asbestos Found?
Asbestos exposure most commonly occurs in industries such as construction or demolition where there is a greater risk of disrupting ACMs. Asbestos can be found in a magnitude of building products, including insulation, flooring, siding, and ceiling tiles. These types of products were also used in homes built before 1980, and can leave homeowners vulnerable to exposure while doing renovations on their property. Based on the most recent data from the World Health Organization, asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis from occupational exposures resulted in 107,000 deaths in 2004. It’s projected that the number of deaths and cases will continue to climb as the latency period of asbestos related diseases continues.
Although the use of asbestos in the US has dramatically dropped, homeowners, trade workers, and others may still come into contact with this carcinogenic mineral. Whether an individual is on the job or in their home, there are ways to alleviate coming into contact with asbestos. A person without the right training and certificates should never attempt to remove ACMs on their own. On a job site individuals will be aware of where they may be coming into contact with asbestos, however in the home it’s pertinent to seek a professional who will be able to check a home before an owner conducts a project.
Understanding that mesothelioma is a completely preventable disease, it’s important to be aware of where asbestos can be found. While Mesothelioma Awareness Day is celebrated on the 26th of September by many, it’s important to recognize the patients and families are affected by this cancer each and every day. Increased advocacy combined with advancements in research will create the possibility of new treatments taking us one step closer to finding a cure.