Although asbestos is no longer as available and utilized now as it was a few decades back, it remains to be a threat to human health. Every year, about 2,500 to 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the United States alone. Such numbers make it even more important for people to be more aware of this lesser-known disease, as well as the role that asbestos plays in its development.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive type of lung cancer that commonly affects the linings of the lungs and chest. Known to be almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos (often in the workplace), it can take somewhere between 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos before any symptoms can start appearing.
How is it diagnosed?
Mesothelioma, unfortunately, does not usually cause any symptoms to show early on. In fact, having symptoms early is rare. A lot of patients may even ignore the symptoms that start to come out at first, often mistaking them for minor problems, thus making it common for patients to be diagnosed with mesothelioma only several months after starting to experience symptoms.
The first step of diagnosis involves a physical exam, and an interview that asks about occupational as well as medical histories. A PFT or a Pulmonary Function Test may also be performed to check how well the patient’s lungs are working. If these exams and questions suggest a diagnosis of mesothelioma, the doctor then confirms it with other tests that include biopsies, imaging scans, and blood tests, among others. Typically, doctors perform chest x-rays first, and if an abnormal growth is detected, other scans such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan, or a positron emission tomography (PET) scan are ordered. Biopsies are utilized to confirm the type of cancer that the patient is afflicted with.
How does asbestos cause a person to develop mesothelioma?
Asbestos, by itself, does not normally pose any threat to human health. However, when disturbed, it can cause microscopic asbestos fibers to be distributed into the air, where it can be inhaled. When a person inhales these microscopic asbestos fibers, they can travel down through the respiratory tract, and through small airways where they can lodge into the linings of the lungs. In time, this can cause tissue scarring and genetic changes that often lead to pleural mesothelioma.
If your job puts you at risk for being exposed to this deadly substance, get certified on asbestos safety. Avoid putting yourself and your family at risk for exposure to asbestos. As there is no known cure for mesothelioma, the best way to avoid developing this disease is still through prevention.