Asbestos Exposure: Lung Disease & Lung Cancer

As New Year’s resolutions continue to abound, and let’s not forget to make a personal resolution for better health! National Cancer Prevention month is just around the corner in February, and with lung health holidays just behind us, now is a great time to focus on preventing lesser-known lung diseases! Mesothelioma is a great example, because it is 100% preventable!

What is mesothelioma?

A cancer of the lining of the lungs, or the abdomen, or the heart. Mesothelioma tumors can develop in each of these locations, however, it most often occurs around the lungs, which is why mesothelioma can be confused with lung cancer. Malignant mesothelioma is very rare and only diagnosed in around 3,000 people each year. All cancers can be life threatening, but mesothelioma in particular has a very poor prognosis: the life expectancy for most mesothelioma patients is about one year.

Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to a mineral called asbestos; inhaling or ingesting fibers can lead to a host of health complications decades down the line. The worst part is, people may not even be aware that they’ve been exposed because the fibers aren’t visible to the naked eye. Additionally, although we know the health impacts of asbestos today, in previous decades asbestos was widely used in the construction and automotive industries, as well as in variety of consumer products. Asbestos use has been largely discontinued, but and there are still cases of accidental exposure; just a few weeks ago makeup products from Claire’s, a national children’s retail chain, tested positive for tremolite asbestos.

All of these factors underscore the why patients and advocates are so passionate about bringing attention to this cancer.

Misconceptions about meso:

Much of the public believes that asbestos is banned in the United States, and subsequently that exposure and potentially developing mesothelioma is no longer a concern. Sadly, this is not the case. There are regulations to limit the use of asbestos, however, it is still used in certain products and is still imported into the United States. Brazil recently announced a ban on asbestos production, and they were previously the largest supplier of asbestos to the United States.

Although the asbestos trade is still active globally, the greatest risk of asbestos exposure actually comes from old asbestos products that have not been entirely removed from buildings around the country. Asbestos is considered innocuous when contained and undisturbed, but the fibers can easily become airborne as the asbestos-containing materials age, during renovation projects, or if the building is demolished. This becomes a particularly relevant issue given the current trend of do-it-yourself projects around the house. Homeowners may not be aware of the presence of asbestos and the necessary safety precautions they should take when completing DIYs.

One of the largest misconceptions about mesothelioma itself is simply that it is often misdiagnosed as other conditions. Symptoms are generally non-specific and can easily be mistaken for other, more common conditions by both patients and medical professionals before testing. Even without considering symptoms, most of the public thinks that mesothelioma occurs in the lung itself, rather than the linings of several internal organs such as the abdomen and even the heart.

Take some time in this new year to recharge and refocus on your health! When it comes to preventing cancers like mesothelioma and protecting your lungs, awareness is truly the key. Before beginning a home renovation, consider having the property inspected for asbestos to ensure your safety. And of course keep your doctor in the loop if you suspect that you may have been exposed to asbestos. These tips should help you breathe easy this year and in the years to come!

This post is brought to you through a collaboration between the June E. Nylen Cancer Center and Anna Suarez, a health advocate for mesothelioma patients who strives to raise awareness about asbestos with the goal of one day seeing the material banned in the United States.”
If you would like more information about asbestos exposure and mesothelioma visit www.maacenter.org

Post by Barb Flynn

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