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Mesothelioma Awareness Day (MAD): The Lingering Effects of Asbestos

Mesothelioma Awareness Day is recognized on the 26th of September every year to help spread awareness about this lesser known cancer and its only known cause, asbestos exposure. This year marks the 17th anniversary of this day, and is an important time to shed light on how exposure to asbestos can lead to life-lasting health consequences.

What Is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that primarily affects the lining of the lungs, but can also be found in the lining of the stomach and heart. There are roughly 3,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year, with the primary demographic being in people 65 years of age and older. This cancer occurs more often among older people because of the latency period of this disease. It typically takes between 10 to 50 years for someone with mesothelioma to begin experiencing symptoms, at which point the cancer has usually developed at a later, more dangerous stage.

Symptoms of malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), the most common type, include: chest pain, coughing, difficulty breathing, fatigue and unexplained weight loss. The prognosis is bleak, with most patients living 12 to 21 months after being diagnosed. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for mesothelioma, and treatment usually is palliative, meaning it focuses on the overall comfort of the patient. Although prognosis is grim, it’s pertinent to note that mesothelioma is one of the only non-genetic forms of cancer. This means that it is possible to see this cancer become a disease of the past, but first we must eliminate its culprit, asbestos.

Asbestos Exposure And How To Avoid It
Today, the most common ways people are exposed to asbestos is through their occupations and at their residences. While the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has guidelines pertaining to employee safety and asbestos, it is at the discretion of the employer to follow them. If you work in an occupation such as construction or carpentry, you are at a heightened risk of being exposed to asbestos. You should ensure that your company provides the proper equipment to keep you safe on the job (think respiratory protection) and is also following the suitable guidelines to limit exposure. If a project involves asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), they should be removed by trained professionals or patched up to limit the possibility of asbestos fibers becoming airborne. Airborne fibers can be inhaled or ingested, which is what leads to the development of asbestos-related illnesses. After you’re done working for the day, any clothing that may have come in contact with asbestos should be removed, bagged and labeled for proper disposal.

If you’re concerned that your home may contain asbestos, you should have the suspected materials tested. One of the building materials that most commonly contains asbestos is insulation, especially in homes built between the 1920s to 1980s. There is no way to know if there is asbestos on your own, as it is invisible to the naked eye. If ACMs are present, it would be best to have them removed and replaced with a greener alternative, however; this can be costly. Asbestos removal can cost anywhere between $500 to $5,000 depending on the severity, but it is worth it to avoid developing a serious disease. By making our homes more green, we are not only helping ourselves, but the future generations that will live in these homes as well.

Spreading Awareness This MAD
Asbestos is still not fully banned in the United States. It is allowed in up to 1% of certain products and continues to linger within older homes and buildings across the country. While people may have heard of what asbestos is, they may not know the severity of the havoc it can wreak on our wellbeing. We must continue to hold our employers accountable to make our jobs safe and try our best at home to protect ourselves and our loved ones.