1. a malignant tumor of the covering of the lung or the lining of the pleural and abdominal cavities, often associated with exposure to asbestos.
Today I'm going to help a friend raise awareness for a little known form of cancer that anybody (not just PMDD women) can develop that has a nearly zero percent survival rate. That's right...zero. This is serious, ladies, and we need to understand just how serious it is. I can't think of a better day to do this than the 10th Annual Mesothelioma Awareness Day.
Yes, mesothelioma, aka meso, which can be contracted simply by breathing the air around you—assuming that air has something in it called asbestos.
Asbestos. We heard a lot about it a few decades back, how dangerous it is, how you should never breathe it in. But since it was semi-sort of banned in the late 1970s we haven't heard much about it at all, except maybe on television ads for attorneys.
Why haven't we heard about it? Did it go away? No, it just slipped under the radar, overshadowed by more visible threats to our health, especially those with a stronger presence in social media.
Because at present, only 2500 to 3000 new cases of meso are diagnosed per year. Mere bullets compared to the big guns like breast cancer and heart disease. But no less devastating to the families affected.
And the number is getting higher each year, with diagnoses expected to peak in 2020.
Why 2020? Because mesothelioma takes a while to develop in your body. 30 to 40 years on average, which is why it is important to the men and women who read this blog. If you attended grades K-12 at any time during the 1970s or 1980s, I am talking to you.
How does mesothelioma happen? Have you ever been in a barn, or even your living room, when a shaft of sunlight streams through a window, and you see dust motes dancing in the air? Teeny tiny particles too numerous to count, and you're breathing them in, bringing them into your body, into your lungs, with every breath you take.
(Asbestos is like that, only you can't see asbestos fibers, not without a microscope.)
We can't avoid these particles, short of perpetually wearing a mask, or holding our breath, so most of us just pretend not to notice anything but maybe how pretty the dust motes are. We have to breathe, so what choice do we have?
None, but in some places, those teeny tiny particles floating through the air are toxic. Innocuous places. Places you'd never expect. Like schools and homes and commercial buildings, especially those built before 1979. Why? Because the building and construction industries have used asbestos for ages for strengthening cement and plastics as well as for insulation, roofing, and fireproofing. The shipbuilding industry has used asbestos to insulate boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes. The automotive industry uses asbestos in vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads. Asbestos has also been used in ceiling and floor tiles; paints, coatings, and adhesives; and plastics.
Why? Because it's chemical resistant and doesn't burn. You can't destroy it, but it can destroy you.
In the late 1970s, the USA banned the use of asbestos in wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces because the asbestos fibers in these products could be released into the air during use. In 1989, the USA banned all new uses of asbestos; however, uses developed before 1989 are still allowed.
So asbestos is still not banned in the USA. True, federal law requires that newly manufactured products contain no more than 1% of asbestos. But how can you accurately measure 1% of something as teeny tiny as asbestos? (If it's strong enough to keep a product from burning, it's strong enough to burn YOU—from the inside out.)
What are the health hazards of exposure to asbestos? People may be exposed to asbestos in their workplace, their communities, or their homes. If products containing asbestos are disturbed (you know, broken, cracked, scraped, removed), tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air. When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they can get trapped in the lungs and remain there for a long time. (Like the rest of your life.) Over time, these fibers can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation, which can make it difficult for you to breathe, and lead to serious health problems (including death).
Asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen. Although a rare form of cancer, meso is the cancer most associated with asbestos exposure. It's the number one cause of Occupational Cancer, especially among the military. That's right, veterans are at the greatest risk of mesothelioma, in particular those in the US Navy.
In addition to lung cancer and meso, some studies have suggested an association between asbestos exposure and gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers, as well as an elevated risk for cancers of the throat, kidney, esophagus, and gall bladder.
Who is at risk? Everyone is exposed to asbestos at some time. Low levels of asbestos are in our air, water, and soil. But people who develop mesothelioma from asbestos are usually exposed to it on a regular basis, most often in a job where they work directly with the asbestos-containing material, or through substantial environmental contact. This can include people who work in schools and hospitals and government buildings, especially those built before 1979. More likely to jump to mind are people in such professions as veterans, demolition workers, drywall removers, asbestos removal workers, firefighters, and automobile workers. Studies evaluating the cancer risk experienced by automobile mechanics exposed to asbestos through brake repair are limited, but the overall evidence suggests there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
Generally, those who develop asbestos-related diseases show no signs of illness for a long time after their first exposure. It can take from 10 to 40 years or more for symptoms of an asbestos-related condition to appear.
There is some evidence that family members of workers heavily exposed to asbestos face an increased risk of developing meso. This risk is thought to result from exposure to asbestos fibers brought into the home on the shoes, clothing, skin, and hair of workers.
How are asbestos-related diseases detected? Individuals who have been exposed (or suspect they have been exposed) to asbestos fibers on the job, through the environment, or at home via a family contact should inform their doctor about their exposure history and whether or not they experience any symptoms. The symptoms of asbestos-related diseases may not become clear for many decades after the exposure, but it is particularly important to check with a doctor if any of the following symptoms develop:
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness.
- A persistent cough that gets worse over time.
- Blood in the sputum (fluid) coughed up from the lungs.
- Pain or tightening in the chest.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Swelling of the neck or face.
- Loss of appetite.
- Weight loss.
- Fatigue or anemia
This last one, fatigue or anemia, is something PMDD women feel all too often. Mesothelioma is on the rise in women, mostly through secondary contact with clothing or items of loved ones that have asbestos fibers on them. I'm not usually one to subscribe to the politics of fear, but if you work in an environment where asbestos is present, or live with someone who does so and comes in contact with it regularly, please be aware of the danger it presents, and the possibility you could have more than PMDD.
For more information, please go here. Tell Heather I sent you.