Mesothelioma Awareness and Prevention
Every September, members of the mesothelioma and cancer community come together to acknowledge Mesothelioma Awareness Day (MAD) which falls annually on the 26th. This day recognizes the aggressive cancer that every year takes an average 2,500 lives and adds another 3,000 diagnoses in the United States alone. Many patients and victims of mesothelioma were made vulnerable to the disease while on the job, as mesothelioma is the leading occupational cancer and is caused solely from exposure to asbestos.
What is Asbestos?
The deadly mineral is responsible for the formation of mesothelioma cancer, as well as asbestosis and lung cancer. Asbestos is completely natural and was at one time heavily mined in countries around the world, including the United States. Today, 55 countries have banned asbestos altogether, but other countries like the U.S. either regulate the mineral, or still allow it completely, and in some countries it’s still mined
Asbestos was used broadly in manufacturing, building, and other trades from the 1900s to the 1980s in the United States. Asbestos also found its way into various consumer products like brake pads, baby powder and blankets (among other items). The “miracle mineral” was used widely due to its useful properties like heat and chemical resistance. It wasn’t until there was already a wide market for the product that doctors and scientists began to link the material directly to mesothelioma and other illnesses.
Those who were most likely affected by asbestos were at one time exposed on the job or during a potential DIY project in the home. Historically, men were put at risk of asbestos exposure while working on construction sites and at shipyards. In the 1900s, workers were most likely to be exposed while erecting homes and other structures, while today workers are at risk of exposure during demolition and renovation projects. Asbestos becomes dangerous when the small fibers are broken and spread in the air. In the air asbestos can be inhaled, where it lodges in our internal organs and causes irritation, leading to illness. Many homes and buildings today were built with asbestos containing materials (ACMs) and therefore put many at risk if these materials are unexpectedly disturbed.
Diagnosis and Prevention
Diagnosing mesothelioma can unfortunately be very difficult due to the irregularly long latency period of the disease; many patients may not even develop mesothelioma until 20-50 years after asbestos exposure. Once malignant mesothelioma is diagnosed, most patients have only between 6 months to 2 years to live. The age of the patient at diagnosis and the stage of the disease also can contribute to life expectancy. The earlier symptoms are recognized, the longer a patient’s life expectancy can be.
Symptoms can present for a long time before diagnosis and can be similar to symptoms of the flu. So, it is crucial for people who think they may have been exposed to asbestos in the past to keep a watchful eye on their health. If you are suffering with an asbestos related disease, or have recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma and are unsure where to turn for the best care, you can find doctors that specialize in your care.
The best way to prevent mesothelioma is to avoid being exposed to asbestos at all costs. Workers who have a greater occupational risk of exposure should take the proper precautions while on the job, such as wearing a respiratory mask and decontaminating their clothing before leaving for the day. Whether it is a DIY task or contracted project, an abatement professional should be contacted if you come across asbestos or believe it may be present. Having your space tested for asbestos, wearing proper equipment during high-risk jobs, and educating others on the dangers of asbestos will help in the fight against asbestos-related disease.