The Battle to Eliminate Mesothelioma and Asbestos-Related Disease

October is Health Literacy Month.  Every October since 1999, organizations and individuals work to awareness of health-related misconceptions and promote the importance of providing understandable health information. In support of Health Literacy Month, the subject of today’s blog is the continued use asbestos in North America and the risks presented by it – including asbestos-related disease.

Use of Asbestos

Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring minerals. The mineral’s bundles of fibers can be separated into thin, durable threads and are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals. Asbestos doesn’t conduct electricity.  These properties and the fact that it doesn’t have to be manufactured, just mined out of the ground, made it a great commodity when use began in the late 1800s.  Use of asbestos increased greatly during World War II.

Building and construction industries use asbestos for strengthening cement and plastics as well as for insulation, roofing, fireproofing, and sound absorption. Asbestos can be used to insulate boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes. You can find asbestos in vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads. It has also been used in ceiling and floor tiles, paints, coatings, and adhesives, and plastics. It’s even used in vermiculite-containing garden products and some crayons.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the use of asbestos in the 1970’s for some domestic uses like wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces because the asbestos fibers in these products could be released into the environment during use. Manufacturers of electric hairdryers voluntarily stopped using asbestos in their products in 1979. In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos – but uses developed before 1989 are still allowed. There are also EPA regulations that require school building inspections to eliminate or reduce asbestos exposure to occupants by removing the asbestos or encasing it.

Domestic consumption of asbestos amounted to about 803,000 metric tons in 1973, but it had dropped to about 2,400 metric tons by 2005.

Asbestos Related Disease

Everyone is exposed to asbestos at some time during their life. Low levels of asbestos are present in the air, water, and soil. Most people don’t get sick from these low levels of exposure.  Most of the people who become ill are exposed to asbestos on a regular basis, usually through working directly with the material or through substantial environmental contact.

Asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer)   Malignant mesothelioma is the most serious of all asbestos-related diseases. The primary cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos.

The disease often presents with symptoms that mimic other common ailments, making it difficult for doctors to diagnose. There is currently no known cure, but treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy can help to improve the typical mesothelioma prognosis and even increase one’s life expectancy.

There are three different types of mesothelioma: Pleural mesothelioma (affecting the lung’s protective lining in the chest cavity), Peritoneal mesothelioma, (affecting the abdominal cavity) and pericardial mesothelioma (affecting the cardiac cavity).

Mesothelioma Cancer

Image courtesy of the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Malignancies (cancerous tumors) occurring within the mesothelial membranes are known as malignant mesothelioma, or simply mesothelioma.

While tumors of the mesothelium were first recognized in the late 1800s, it was as use substantially increased during WWII that suspicions of the cancer’s causal relationship with asbestos exposure were identified.

Today, incidence of mesothelioma is still quite rare, with only 2,500-3,000 diagnoses in the United States each year.

Heather Von St. James

Blogger Heather Von St. James and I were pregnant at the same time. In 2005, I gave birth to a son, and Heather gave birth to a daughter. Three months after this wondrous event, Heather was diagnosed with Pleural mesothelioma and given 15 months to live. I can’t even imagine what that was like for her. My car accident resulted in a lengthy recovery – but mesothelioma is something that you cannot completely recover from – there is NO CURE.

There is hope – despite her 15 month timeline, on May 26th this year, Heather celebrated the tenth anniversary of her diagnosis. She continues blogging about her journey and spreading awareness about the dangers of asbestos. Today, I’m writing to support her cause – and spread awareness.

How You Can Help

Donations can be made to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation – the only non-profit organization dedicated to ending mesothelioma and the suffering caused by it, by funding research, providing education and support for patients and their families, and by advocating for federal funding of mesothelioma research. Of every dollar that you donate, 86% will go to programs funded by the foundation. Mesothelioma Awareness Day was on September 26th.

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