Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the mesothelium caused by Asbestos, the tissue that covers the lungs and abdominal organs. These tumors tend to spread rapidly and may not be responsive to current cancer treatments. Many patients die within two years of being diagnosed. Therefore, prevention is the best way to combat this cancer.
Mesothelioma was first described in the 1700s, and by the 1930s the tumors were suspected to be associated with occupational exposure to asbestos. In 1960, a physician in South Africa noticed that 85% of his mesothelioma patients had worked in or lived near asbestos mines.
The relationship between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma has now been well documented. At least 70% of people with mesothelioma report being exposed to this toxic substance.
What is Asbestos?
It is a lightweight mineral made up of millions of tiny, heat-resistant fibrils. These fibers make the material a good insulator. It was used extensively in housing construction and ship insulation prior to 1999. Because of its lightweight, it was also used as a filler in concrete.
It has been linked to lung cancer and other lung conditions in addition to mesothelioma. Because of this, in 1989 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned many uses of asbestos in the United States. The ban was later revised and not implemented until 1999.
However, it can still be found in new materials such as flooring tiles, automotive brake pads, cement products, and asbestos clothing. It’s products made before the ban also still remain.
How does Asbestos cause Harm?
Its fibrils are small and can be easily breathed in. Once in the lungs, these tiny fibers may penetrate between the lung cells and enter the chest cavity. There, the fibrils are recognized as foreign material by the body, and white blood cells are sent to attack with enzymes.
Enzymes have little effect on asbestos but can cause damage to the tissues that line the chest cavity and cover the lungs. Because of the action of these enzymes, microscopic scars form on the tissue surrounding the asbestos fibrils. More white cells arrive with more enzymes, repeating the process.
Over many years, these scars can enlarge and merge together. The scarred cells may become cancer cells, developing into mesothelioma.
What can you do?
Although several uses of asbestos have been banned in the US, mesothelioma will continue to affect those people exposed before the limited ban was put into place, and there is still the potential for new exposures. There is currently no cure for mesothelioma.
Therefore, the best way to combat this disease is to prevent or limit exposure to asbestos. If you feel you may have this substance in your home, it is often best to leave undamaged asbestos material alone unless it is leaking into living space. If you need to disturb or remove asbestos-containing materials (ACM’s), use trained and qualified contractors.
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