Oct 30

Guest commentary
Environmental Carcinogens: Are You at Risk for Mesothelioma?

Guest Post by Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center

Tremendous strides have been made in the medical field within the past century, yet carcinogens and pollutants still pose a very serious threat to health. While treatments progress and greatly affect patients’ prognoses, there has been no definite preventive measure for many types of cancer. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 6 deaths globally can be attributed to cancer. Risk factors can come in the form of genetics, lifestyle choices such as the lack of exercise, poor diet or smoking, and environmental hazards, which can greatly influence one’s susceptibility to cancer. However, certain naturally occurring substances can also cause serious illness and rare disease in humans- perhaps the most dangerous is the relation between asbestos and mesothelioma, an uncommon and severe cancer. 

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is an organic silicate mineral, which is characterized by its long, crystalline composition. The danger in asbestos lies within the mineral’s friability, or it’s ability to break into pieces so small you can’t see them, and therefore might end up breathing them in. As the particles are inhaled, they can become lodged within the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Since ancient times, asbestos has been used for a variety of different purposes, including cooking ware and burial shrouds in Egypt. During industrialization periods, particularly in the 19th Century, the usage of asbestos became widespread. Lauded for is durability, as well as its efficient fire resistance, the mineral was used extensively in construction and manufacturing. At its height, the United States consumed over 800,000 tons of asbestos. But, as it became more common, so did the understanding of its risks to health. Laborers and tradesmen began exhibiting similar symptoms of illness and disease, and the health effects of asbestos exposure were first documented in the 1920s.

The Rise of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare, hyper-aggressive cancer that is caused only from exposure to asbestos. Knowing this, the best way to prevent this disease is to stop the use of and remove asbestos completely. The disease affects the thin lining around the heart, lungs or abdomen. Mesothelioma can be broken down into three types:

  • Pleural: affects the lining of the lung cavity; the most common form
  • Peritoneal: affects the lining of the abdominal cavity; only reported in 10-30% of mesothelioma patients
  • Pericardial: affects the lining of the heart; rarest form found in only 1% of mesothelioma patients      

According to the CDC, mesothelioma contributed to 45,221 deaths between 1999 and 2015, which demonstrates the illness’ rarity. The disease can take several years to several decades to develop, so knowledge of asbestos exposure is imperative in receiving a proper diagnosis. The symptoms of mesothelioma include fatigue, pain at the site of the cancer (chest or stomach depending on the type) and breathing difficulties. Due to the commonality of the disease’s symptoms, and the rarity of the disease, it can go undetected and misdiagnosed for several years. Diagnosis generally requires x-rays and/or MRIs, as well as a biopsy.

Patient Prognosis & Treatment Options

Mesothelioma patients unfortunately have a very poor prognosis, due to the fact that symptoms generally become apparent during the cancer’s later stages. The average patient will live 1-2 years after diagnosis; however, peritoneal mesothelioma patients have a more favorable outlook than pericardial or pleural patients. Upon diagnosis, patients may assemble a team of healthcare professionals, including an oncologist or a mesothelioma specialist. Several different types of treatment options may be used in conjunction for patients, including a regiment of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. Alternatively, several emerging therapies have seen success, including immunotherapy, which involves strengthening certain components of the body’s immune system through bioengineering practices. Cryotherapy, which freezes compromised tissue, has also seen some success.

What’s My Risk?

Today, buildings built before 1980 still run the risk of asbestos contamination. Current US legislation has no ban in place on asbestos; however, the Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing its effects on human health. If one suspects their home or workplace may be contaminated with asbestos, it is imperative that they do not attempt to remove it themselves.

Rather than try to take care of the issue on your own, a licensed abatement specialist will be able to properly test and identify where asbestos might be lurking in your home and what action should be taken. In some cases, asbestos can be encapsulated, preventing loose fibers from becoming airborne and posing a risk. In other cases, a full abatement of the materials is needed because the products may be too badly damaged and might be dangerous. Although the cost of abatement is expensive, the benefits far outweigh the risks of possible exposure.

Tags: asbestoscancer