As many seniors know, there are many common diseases and illnesses to look out for as you age. With September 26th being Mesothelioma Awareness Day around the country, we wanted to provide information and answer questions around mesothelioma and its link to asbestos.
This disease is relevant to seniors in particular due to the fact that symptoms of mesothelioma cancer take a long time to develop. The average age for a diagnosis is around 72 for females and 75 for males, with 91% of all mesothelioma patients over the age of 55.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma affects the cells that line the body’s organs and is considered a rare and aggressive cancer. There are 3 main types of mesothelioma that affect different areas:
- Pleural mesothelioma – affects the lining of the lungs
- Peritoneal mesothelioma – affects the lining of the abdomen
- Pericardial mesothelioma – affects the lining of the heart cavity
Symptoms of mesothelioma vary depending on the type of mesothelioma the patient has. Many of these symptoms can often be confused or thought to be related to other illnesses. However, some of the most common symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing and swallowing
- Chest pain and coughing
- Fluid buildup in the lungs and abdomen
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
How does it relate to asbestos?
It has been found that mesothelioma cancer is caused directly by being exposed to damaged or disturbed asbestos. It can sometimes take anywhere from 20 to 40 years after being exposed to fully develop and show symptoms.
Asbestos is a material that has been used often in the past due to its durability and resistance to fire. As disturbed asbestos becomes airborne, it can be inhaled or digested. The strong asbestos fibers don’t break down, and they become lodged in the lining of the organs mentioned above—the heart, abdomen, or lungs. The body then produces scar tissue around the infected lodged fiber, and that allows cancerous cells to start forming into mesothelioma.
Where is asbestos found?
Asbestos was used in a variety of forms and products, but it was most often used in building materials up until the early 1980’s. Asbestos is still not banned in the United States today, although there are regulations on it. It was estimated in 2015 that the global trade for asbestos was around $344 million dollars.
The EPA estimates that about 50% of homes and buildings in the United States contain some trace of asbestos. Many older buildings still have asbestos in them, and, as these structures wear down over time, it becomes more of a health risk. Properly installed asbestos is not considered a health risk. However, it can become damaged and disturbed easily, and, if it finds a way to become airborne, it can be life-threatening.
Mesothelioma also affects a large portion of the senior veteran community across the United States. Asbestos was a commonly used product on Naval vessels due to the need to make them fire-resistant. Many Naval veterans were exposed to asbestos from the 1930’s up until the mid-1970’s. Asbestos was also present in United States Army bases, Air Force aircraft components, and Marine bases during this time period as well.
Additionally, asbestos can most commonly be found in these areas of older homes and buildings:
- Siding and roofing tiles
- Under flooring tiles
- Insulation materials in attic, walls, pipes, and furnaces
- Electrical wire casing
- Some drywall
- Applications used for soundproofing homes
What should I do if I think I was exposed or have asbestos in my home?
If you think you have asbestos located in your home, you should contact a licensed asbestos inspector as quickly as possible. These professionals will be able to come and test to see if there are any asbestos dangers in your home. The professional can also assess if you need to have asbestos removed.
If you think that you were exposed to asbestos at any point in your life, you should get checked by your doctor immediately. A doctor will be able to give you a referral or perform tests to see if there was any damage caused by asbestos.
Although there is no cure for mesothelioma, patients can go through treatment to help improve their life expectancy, pain, and symptoms. Treatment for mesothelioma usually combines chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery. The earlier your doctor detects potential mesothelioma, the more successful treatment options are.