Mesothelioma and the hazards of asbestos exposure

As a result of the recently declared Public Health Emergency in Libby, Montana on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos awareness has been on the rise. Considering the presence of asbestos-containing materials in older homes and buildings, and the fact that asbestos is not banned in the United States, public health officials advise citizens to educate themselves on the risks of asbestos exposure to avoid any health hazards.

The naturally occurring mineral asbestos was used in a variety of construction materials throughout much of the 20th century. This unique mineral is fire-resistant and acts as an excellent insulator. Because to these qualities, manufacturers of construction materials mixed asbestos into paints, glues, cements, fiberboard, insulation, roofing, siding, flooring and paper in order to enrich such building materials with the mineral’s advantageous characteristics.

When asbestos-containing materials become damaged or disturbed, the toxic fibers that make up asbestos can be released into the air. If inhaled or ingested, these fibers can cause significant damage to the lungs and result in malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Asbestos fibers, however, are not easily expelled or removed from the body. In many cases, the fibers will attach themselves to the lining of the lungs and remain there for several decades. While attached, the lining of the lungs often become inflamed and eventually scarred.

Evidence has shown that inhaling asbestos on just one occasion can cause the development of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Someone who smokes cigarettes and is exposed to asbestos is at an even greater risk of contracting lung cancer or another respiratory disease.

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

However, other indirect cases of asbestos exposure, known as secondary exposure, have affected the lives of women and children. Many of the men who worked with asbestos unknowingly carried home asbestos fibers on their skin and clothes, exposing their wives, children and friends to the toxic mineral.

Diagnosing this disease can be an extremely difficult task, as many of the symptoms patients often experience will 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 allow the disease to progress to later stages of development by the time diagnosis occurs.

Those who have been exposed to asbestos should seek the advice of their medical doctor and schedule routine examinations and tests. Such tests would include X-rays and CT scans, which are two of the common ways to detect mesothelioma. If an asbestos-related disease is diagnosed during the early stages of development, treatment is much more likely to have a positive effect.

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

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