If treated on time, lung infections are usually easily curable. People working in construction and manufacturing-related industries commonly suffer from various lung diseases. However, persistent lung infections may hint towards more complicated health conditions. It can lead to life-threatening diseases like cancer.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops on most organs’ thin layer (mesothelial layer). There are approximately 3000 reported mesothelioma cases in America, and this disease remains one of the rarest cancers in the world. It is caused by inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers.
This type of cancer usually attacks the mesothelial linings of the lungs or abdomen. The symptoms are mild for the first few decades and generally ignored, making early detection a significant challenge.
Asbestos exposure accounts for the majority of mesothelioma cases worldwide. This fibrous mineral was used extensively in the past century due to its fireproof abilities and durability. Every building, ship, and underground pipeline was constructed with asbestos. With the long latency period, many people diagnosed now have been exposed to asbestos in the previous century.
Mesothelioma is incurable and deadly. Life expectancy after the diagnosis is around 4 to 18 months, depending on many other factors. However, medicine has advanced considerably in the past few decades. Better mesothelioma treatment options are available that can increase your life expectancy by a few years. Oncologists usually run a few tests before deciding which course of treatment will suit you best.
Occupation Hazards Leading to Mesothelioma
Asbestos has no safe limit for exposure. Nowadays, workers are required to take precautionary measures while dealing with asbestos. These precautions include wearing protective gear like gloves, gas masks, and protective clothing.
More often than not, people diagnosed with mesothelioma used to work with asbestos directly or indirectly in the past. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases, roughly 27 million workers were exposed to asbestos from 1940 to 1980.
There are many occupations where asbestos exposure is an occupational hazard. Some of these are mentioned as follows.
- Miners: Although asbestos mining was banned in the US in 2002, many miners still deal with infections due to high asbestos exposure. Certain minerals are contaminated with a considerable amount of asbestos, damaging miners’ health and affecting their families.
- Industrial Workers: Machinery used in various industries was constructed using asbestos in varying amounts. The workers that tended to machinery daily were most at risk of asbestos exposure.
- Construction Workers: Asbestos is fireproof; hence, many building materials like major pipelines, roofing materials, and flooring. According to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 25% of the people who die due to asbestos exposure work in construction.
- Demolition Crews: Older buildings are often heavily lined with asbestos. Demolition crews are hired to demolish old structures. Such activity can have a drastic impact on the health of the workers. Tearing down the buildings disperses asbestos fibers into the surroundings.
- US Navy Veterans: Up until the 1980s, navy ships were constructed entirely of asbestos. Navy veterans who served as shipbuilders and sailors are most likely to develop mesothelioma now. In addition to the navy, the airforce also used asbestos to construct aircraft. Hence, these veterans and their families are now at high risk of contracting mesothelioma.
- Mill Workers: Mill-related machinery operates at high temperatures. As a precautionary measure, these machines are often lined with asbestos making the machines heat resistant. Mill workers working in close vicinity of this machinery before (specifically during the 1990s) are most likely to develop mesothelioma now.
- HVAC Workers: HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. HVAC workers maintain and repair HVAC systems in homes and buildings. They are at risk of asbestos exposure while handling HVAC-related machinery parts or coming into contact with such building materials.
- Maintenance Workers: The pipeline’s underground network was mainly constructed using asbestos due to the high durability of the mineral. Most of those pipelines are still planted and maintained regularly. Maintenance workers are still at risk for asbestos exposure. They are advised to wear protective clothing while dealing with potential asbestos products.
- Firefighters: Firefighters often use gears and equipment insulated with asbestos for fireproofing. These firefighters have to deal with high exposure to asbestos fibers as this material is also dispersed in a burning building. Hence, putting them at increased risk due to asbestos exposure.
- Merchant Seamen: As with navy ships, regular merchant ships were also constructed with asbestos. Seamen were often exposed to asbestos for long periods during their journey. However, as these sea merchants travel in the open air (as opposed to a closed chamber in submarines), they’re exposed to asbestos isn’t as intense. However, exposure to this material still puts them at risk depending on their immunity.
- First Responders: First responders are exposed to asbestos during rescue missions. Some disasters strike down old buildings and disperse the asbestos fibers used in the construction. While digging into the rubble to save the victims, first responders may directly contact asbestos.
In addition to this, families of these workers are also at high-risk for asbestos exposure. Asbestos can enter their home environment by clinging to their clothing. This kind of exposure is also known as second-hand exposure and can be equally dangerous.
Treatment and Care
The prognosis of mesothelioma patients generally looks grim. The doctors advise patients to start their treatment immediately after the diagnosis for better results. Traditional treatment options aim to destroy cancer cells in the targeted organ. In the process, some healthy cells also get destroyed.
Before starting treatment, doctors usually run a few tests to determine blood count, level of immunity, cancer stage, and the patient’s general health. They typically start on one of the three main therapy treatments based on the test results.
- Surgery remains on the top of the preferred treatment options due to high success rates and minimal side effects. It works best when mesothelioma is caught at an early stage. Surgeons may remove tissue around the organs where the cancer is found. In the case of pleural mesothelioma, surgeons may have to drain the fluid buildup in the lungs by inserting a tube or a catheter.
- The second treatment involves using chemicals to kill cancer cells, called chemotherapy. The chemicals, once administered, run throughout the patient’s body in search of cancer cells and stop their growth. Doctors recommend their patients for chemotherapy sessions before or after surgery, depending on the severity of the condition.
- The third treatment is radiation exposure, high-energy rays targeted at the affected organ to kill cancer cells. After surgery, radiation therapy is often administered to kill the remaining cancer cells and finish the job.
These treatments are effective but can take a toll on the patients. The side effects include nausea, vomiting, and fatigue, which remain prolonged. During this time, the patient often needs support from their family and friends. Since these symptoms affect the overall daily lifestyle of the patient, it may also be beneficial for mesothelioma patients to consult a psychologist for therapy.
People working in high asbestos exposure environments shouldn’t ignore minor symptoms. It’s essential for people in such high-risk occupations to keep regular health checkups and understand their contractual obligations along with their protection rights. If and when diagnosed with this disease, it’s critical to keep health checks as early detection can still steer the patient to a healthy recovery compared to late detection.