Did you know approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the US each year? Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive cancer typically linked to exposure to asbestos.
Mesothelioma most often begins in the mesothelium, which forms the outer lining of the lungs, but may also develop in the lining of the abdominal cavity or other organs. It can take 30 years or more for mesothelioma to develop after asbestos exposure, and it is generally diagnosed in those over 60 and often in the later stages of the disease.
The greater someone’s exposure to asbestos, the greater their risk of developing Mesothelioma. Asbestos is a fibrous mineral group occurring naturally in soil and rocks around the world. Due to its strong, heat-resistant quality, it has been commonly used in the United States for a wide variety of products, including building insulation and flooring. High-level, consistent exposure to asbestos, such as a career working in construction around asbestos-filled insulation, is linked to a greater risk of developing the disease.
How does asbestos cause mesothelioma? Who’s most at risk?
When working with asbestos, fibers can come loose and dust can be generated that settles in the lungs or stomach, which damages the cells. According to the American Cancer Society, those most at risk for asbestos exposure are people who work in an industry that frequently uses or used asbestos in the past and those who live with someone working in those industries. These occupations include factory workers, ship builders, automotive workers, insulation manufacturers, installation workers, railroad workers, miners, plumbers, and construction workers.
Family members of people exposed to asbestos at work can also be exposed through asbestos fibers carried home on their clothes from the jobsite; it is also possible to be exposed during the renovation of old buildings or spending time in rundown buildings that have begun to deteriorate where previously concealed asbestos materials may become uncovered.
How do I protect myself against mesothelioma?
The best means of prevention is limiting exposure to asbestos through the avoidance of asbestos wherever possible. If you are renovating an old home or commercial building and are in need of asbestos removal / abatement, call on professionals to handle the job properly.
If you must personally work with asbestos, stay up-to-date on current best practices for handling the material, use the appropriate protective equipment and follow the proper safety procedures whenever working in or around the material to ensure it is properly contained.
For more information on how to protect you and your family, visit Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance’s mesothelioma.com or American Cancer Society’s cancer.org.
Dr. Kevin Kist is a physician specializing in pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine with UPMC Susquehanna’s Lung Center. For more information on mesothelioma, visit UPMCsusquehanna.org or call the Lung Center at (570) 321-3580.