Mesothelioma and Asbestos: Risks and prevention

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Exposure occurs when the microscopic fibers that make up asbestos are either inhaled or ingested into the body. This typically happens after asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed and have released asbestos fibers into the air.

In the past, some of the more common locations for asbestos exposure (predominantly for men) have included the construction, shipyard, railroad, power plant, chemical plant and automotive industries.

However, other indirect cases of asbestos exposure, known as secondary exposure, have been noted to affect the lives of women and children. Many of the men who worked with asbestos would often carry home asbestos fibers on their skin and clothes, and when their wives and children would hug them after a long day at work, they too were exposed to asbestos. To date, secondary exposure has been responsible for an impactful portion of malignant mesothelioma cases.

Diagnosing this disease can be an extremely difficult task, as the symptoms patients often experience can resemble those of minor and more common health conditions. In addition, the severe latency period associated with mesothelioma (usually ranging anywhere from 20 to 50 years) can significantly affect the time of when someone is diagnosed.

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency enforces strict regulations concerning asbestos, even though not all asbestos material is banned. Products that are banned include asbestos-containing materials that contain 1 percent or more asbestos fiber. Materials that contain more than one percent asbestos fiber can be found among older products such as insulation material, flooring and ceiling tiles.

Approximately 80 percent of homes built before 1980 are likely to contain some amount of asbestos. If intact and stable, asbestos-containing materials generally do not pose a health risk as long as they are routinely checked for potential damage.

Additional information about mesothelioma and asbestos exposure may be found through the Mesothelioma Center.

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