Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Successful Patient: Have you heard of Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.  It's baaaaad.  Symptoms, which are essentially respiratory distress symptoms that can be caused by other problems too, often may not appear until 30 to 60 years after the initial exposure to asbestos.  There are three kinds of mesothelioma: pleural (affects the lining of the lung as is the most common kind), peritoneal (affects the abdominal lining), and pericardal (affects the heart's lining).  This is the nitty-gritty about mesothelioma.

I first became aware of how dangerous asbestos was when I worked in advertising, and one of our clients was dealing with a lawsuit regarding asbestos.  Before then, I had not given it a thought.  But it's actually important to think about it even now.  Asbestos use has not been banned in the U.S.

Who is the most likely to be exposed to asbestos?  Well, people who work with it, usually men in construction but also military veterans.  I was quite surprised about the latter group.  According to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, military veterans are at the greatest risk of mesothelioma from asbestos exposure if they were on naval ships, worked in shipyards or lived on military bases.  Other places anyone can be exposed? Older homes, schools, factories, and commercial buildings.

Another fact that surprised me: you can be exposed to asbestos in a secondhand way.  For example, a plumber's wife can be exposed to the fibers when she washes her husband's work clothes.  Secondhand exposure occurs when someone touches clothing or other items that have asbestos fibers on them.

What is asbestos? It is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that is mined for its properties such as heat and fire resistance.  The Connecticut Department of Health has an informative page about it at their website. The problems occur when old and worn asbestos or materials made of asbestos flake off the fibers and they become airborne.  The fibers are so small they are microscopic and cannot be seen and they easily enter the body when a person inhales.

asbestos fibers
It's important to educate ourselves about this danger, and to check our homes and find out if our workplaces have asbestos in them.  For more information on mesothelioma, places where asbestos can be found, and more, check out the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance website or contact your state's Department of Health.

Cancer of any kind is devastating.  In the last two years, I've had a friend and a cousin die of pancreatic cancer, and several friends successfully battle breast cancer.  I hope I never encounter mesothelioma.  It's difficult to treat, aggressive, with a high mortality rate.  The best way to fight it is through prevention, i.e. preventing asbestos exposure.  It's important to be an informed patient.....

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