How Mesothelioma is Relevant Even Today
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is almost always caused by an exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that was widely used, but is now known to be a potentially fatal carcinogen. The asbestos fiber consists of long, thin fibrous crystals and may be mixed with other substances in order to resist heat, electricity and chemical damage. Due to these characteristics, asbestos was used in many buildings and other structures throughout the 1900s. One estimation is that up to 80 percent of all buildings constructed before 1978 had asbestos within the design.
The cancer that this substance can lead to-mesothelioma-can be either malignant or benign. The malignant type of mesothelioma is the most hazardous form of asbestos cancer and is deadly in most cases. It affects the tissue known as the mesothelium, which protects the heart, stomach, lungs, and other organs by making a special fluid that allows the organs to move.
So if asbestos is a well known poison, and is no longer used in today’s structures, why would mesothelioma still be relevant today? The buildings that contained asbestos are still in existence and many of them, especially those that were made before the 1970s, are undergoing vast renovations. During the renovation or demolition process, the asbestos fibers are released into the air, and from there can be breathed into the lungs, causing untold damage. With more and more people willing to “do-it-yourself,” people are more apt to conduct their own renovation projects, rather than contracting professionals. Yet exposure to asbestos, even for brief periods, can be very dangerous-especially without proper precautions.
Another reason mesothelioma is still relevant is because of its long latency period. Due to the way it forms, the cancer may not manifest until anywhere between 20 to 50 years after the initial asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is rare in people under the age of 55; three-fourths of people diagnosed with mesothelioma are over the age of 65. Therefore, people are just now discovering these lung abnormalities, that may stem from exposures that happened in the 1960’s or 1970’s!
As with most cancers, early diagnosis can increase the effectiveness of mesothelioma treatment. However, the symptoms of mesothelioma that do appear early usually mimic those of other ailments-such as emphysema, influenza, or even a common cold. Scientists are scrambling to unlock the technological advances that can help in the detection and treatment of this aggressive cancer, but there’s no way to turn back the clock and prevent exposure that may have happened decades ago.
Even people who did not work directly with asbestos can be at risk for mesothelioma. There have been cases, including a recent landmark lawsuit in Australia, involving caretakers of asbestos workers who contracted the disease simply by repeated secondary exposure to the carcinogen, such as washing contaminated clothes.
While asbestos is no longer widely used or considered a “miracle fiber,” as it was in days gone by, it still lingers in the infrastructures of the past and is still very present in today’s society.