What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring, fibrous minerals. Due to its durable, fire-resistant nature, asbestos was widely used throughout the 20th century in a number of industrial and residential applications, peaking in popularity during World War II. Unfortunately, asbestos was later deemed a Group 1 carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance, by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Because of its widespread use over decades, millions of Americans may have been exposed to asbestos unknowingly, either directly or indirectly through secondhand exposure. While other factors, such as radiation, zeolites (another group of minerals similar to asbestos), and the SV40 virus have been linked to mesothelioma, asbestos remains the only known cause of this progressive cancer.
How does asbestos cause mesothelioma?
When asbestos is disturbed, its fibers become airborne and can enter the body in two ways: inhalation or ingestion (swallowing). Similar to getting a splinter in your skin, the asbestos fibers weave into the body’s mesothelium, the lining of the stomach and chest cavities. These lodged fibers cause scar tissue to form, which in some cases results in the development of malignant mesothelioma tumors. Asbestos is linked to a swath of other illnesses, including asbestosis and lung cancer.
What type of asbestos causes mesothelioma?
There are six forms of asbestos, all of which are proven causes of mesothelioma. The two most commonly used forms of asbestos are chrysotile and amphibole.
Chrysotile asbestos, sometimes referred to as white or curly asbestos, is the most common type of asbestos. Amphibole asbestos, sometimes called brown asbestos, has straight fibers and is broken into two subgroups, crocidolite and amosite asbestos.
Occupations at risk for exposure to asbestos
There are approximately 3,300 mesothelioma cases reported each year as a result of asbestos exposure. Most asbestos exposure happens in the workplace — with a whopping 125 million people having been exposed on the job. About half of all occupational cancer deaths are attributed to asbestos.
During its heyday, asbestos was praised for its near-perfect industrial features. It was a superior construction material mainly because of its resistance to heat and corrosion. Occupations associated with having a high risk of asbestos exposure include:
- Auto mechanics
- Asbestos plant manufacturers
- Boiler workers
- Brick masons
- Construction workers
- Demolition workers
- Drywall workers
- Factory workers
- Industrial plant workers
- Machine operators
- Mill workers
- Military personnel, particularly U.S. Navy Veterans
- Power Plant workers
- Railroad workers
- Shipyard workers
- Steel mill workers
- Tile setters
Products containing asbestos
Asbestos is commonly found in a number of everyday products, including:
- Electrical wiring
- Fireproof blankets and clothing
- Piping material
- Potting soils
- Roofing and shingles
- Talcum powder, found in beauty products and baby powder
- Vehicles, commonly brake pads and clutches
Asbestos causes mesothelioma in veterans
The majority of mesothelioma patients are men over the age of 55. About 30 percent of all mesothelioma patients are veterans, because asbestos was used heavily in shipyards and other military installations during the mid-1900s.
Veterans may be eligible for financial compensation and benefits. Learn more about how asbestos affects veterans, including how to file a VA claim.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma has an extremely long latency period, or the time between the original exposure to asbestos and the development of the disease, typically ranging between 20 and 50 years. This is mainly due to factors like the amount and duration of asbestos exposure. Over time, the inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers cause scar tissue to form on the body’s mesothelial cells, eventually resulting in the formation of malignant cancerous cells.
Symptoms may advance as the cancer metastasizes, or spreads. Most diagnoses happen at stage 3, as symptoms at this stage become difficult to ignore. Hoarseness and coughing up blood are indicators that the mesothelioma may be spreading to other organs in the body.
If you think you may have been exposed to asbestos or are showing any symptoms, contact your doctor right away. Because of the aggressive nature of mesothelioma, early detection can greatly increase your prognosis.