In the US, asbestos is responsible for over 4000 deaths every year. These deaths are generally from older Americans who have been exposed to asbestos over long periods of time and have developed one of the fatal diseases attached to that exposure. Younger people, if routinely exposed to asbestos fibers over time, are also at risk of developing asbestos-related disease with exposure usually take anywhere from 15 to 60 years to develop. Continued exposure creates a cumulative effect, as the asbestos fibers never get removed from the body.
Breathing in asbestos causes asbestos fibers to be trapped in the body, primarily in the lungs and breathing tubes. These fibers cause cell damage resulting in cancerous tumors and major health issues. Here are the four major ones:
- Mesothelioma is a type of a cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs. It is a rare disease – incidence is 1 in every 100,000 for males and 0.3 in every 100,000 for females. This disease typically takes 20-50 years to appear, with the highest risk around 30-35 years after exposure. Mesothelioma is always fatal and is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos.
- Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer is a part of the large group of lung cancers. Asbestos induced tumors obstruct the airways and it eventually becomes fatal. Smoking multiplies by 10 the risk of death due to lung cancer for asbestos workers.
- Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that can lead to respiratory impairment and diseases such as lung cancer. Asbestosis causes widespread interstitial fibrosis (scar tissue between the alveoli in the lungs).
- Diffuse Pleural Thickening is a thickening of the membrane surrounding the lungs. When this disease advances it can restrict lung expansion to the point the patient cannot breathe.
Diagnosis of Mesothelioma Remains Steady in the US
Mesothelioma typically develops after people are exposed to asbestos in the workplace – in industrial settings, shipyards, auto repair shops, old houses, schools and public buildings. There is also a high rate of Mesothelioma in veterans who were exposed during their days in the military. Because of this large group, who often does not understand its rights, there are law firms that focus specifically on Mesothelioma related Veteran legal options for getting them compensation that can then be used, to pay medical treatment expenses.
Although the use of asbestos in the workplace has nearly ceased in the US, doctors still diagnose a steady 3,000 cases of mesothelioma annually, with the majority of those traced to job-related exposures to asbestos. These numbers remain high primarily because of the long time cycle for the disease. While there’s no cure for mesothelioma and the outlook is generally poor, researchers have made significant progress in understanding the cancer and developing new treatment options and alternative therapies.
Treatment of Mesothelioma
There are three conventional types of treatment and some alternative therapies for patients with mesothelioma. Regularly two or more of these are joined over the span of treatment:
Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to destroy cancer cells. This therapy may be used both before and post-surgery or as a lone treatment for those patients who are not fit to undergo surgery.
There are two major types of surgery for mesothelioma:
- Pleurectomy is a type of surgery in which part of the pleura (two thin layers of tissue that protect and cushion the lungs) is removed. This procedure helps to prevent fluid from collecting in the affected area of the lung. Pleurectomy provides symptomatic relief but does not appear to benefit survival rates.
- An Extrapleural pneumonectomy removes the diseased lung, part of the pericardium, (membrane covering the heart), part of the diaphragm (muscle between the lungs and the abdomen), and part of the parietal pleura (membrane lining the chest). An Extrapleural pneumonectomy is performed on patients with early stage localized mesothelioma that has not spread to the lymph nodes or invaded surrounding tissues and organs. It allows other therapies or treatments to be given with less hazard to different other organs.
Using targeted radiation an oncologist can kill cancer cells and shrink tumors, generally with less side effects than chemotherapy. This treatment can be used in all stages.
A number of cancer centers that specialize in mesothelioma treatment offer complementary therapies, such as massage, acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, meditation and nutritional counseling. The goal is to offer therapies that treat the whole person, not just the disease, to boost quality of life and overall health.