Advocacy, Occupational Health

Preventing an Occupational Cancer: Mesothelioma

Shared from the Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center (MAA) and written by Sarah Wallace a health advocate for patients dealing with the burden of mesothelioma cancer. She focuses on asbestos education and exposure prevention while also supporting the cancer community as a whole.

There are a number of external factors and circumstances which can lead to a cancer diagnosis. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1,688,780 new cancer cases were diagnosed in 2017, and roughly 600,920 were fatal. While there is still a lot to learn about the disease, there are recognized measures that decrease the risk of developing specific types of cancers.

Between 30 to 50 percent of all cancer cases are in fact preventable. Cancer prevention is the most cost-effective and sustainable strategy for regulating cancer. In light of National Cancer Prevention Month this February, we would like to highlight the toxic material, asbestos, which remains the number one cause of occupational cancer in the United States.

What is Asbestos and How is it Dangerous?

Asbestos is a naturally occuring mineral fiber that was popular between the 1940’s and 1970’s for its durability, heat resistance and affordability. For years, asbestos was viewed as the “miracle” material across various industries, ranging from the production of consumer goods to construction. However, as the popularity of the material grew, the dangers associated with the material also surfaced.

Damage to asbestos can cause particles to release into the air and become hazardous. Once inhaled, these fibers can lead to several health risks, which include lung disease, asbestosis, and most notably, mesothelioma.

Because the only cause of mesothelioma is from asbestos exposure, it’s important to learn about this cancer and what to keep any eye out for if you have been exposed. Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that mainly affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen. Common symptoms of this cancer include chest pain, shortness of breath and fluid buildup in the lungs. Since symptoms are similar to other illnesses, it’s hard to detect mesothelioma early on. Many patients aren’t diagnosed until a later stage of the cancer.

Which Occupations are at Risk for Asbestos Exposure?

Many Americans assume that asbestos is banned in the United States. However, hundreds of thousands of pounds of asbestos have been imported to the U.S over the past decade. Despite the strict regulations on the use and importation of asbestos, exposure to the toxic material is more common than people may realize. It is estimated that 125 million people worldwide are exposed to the toxic material while working. Although anyone can be at jeopardy for coming into contact with asbestos, there are certain occupations which face a higher risk of exposure.