Cancer is a serious disease. But late-night commercials asking if you or your loved ones have been exposed to asbestos, and asserting that you may be entitled to financial compensation, can trivialize these diseases.
Mesothelioma cancer is often the subject of these commercials, while the actual nature of this dangerous cancer often takes a back seat. These ads are full of fast-talkers and difficult to understand “legalese”, so let’s break down exactly what asbestos is, how it causes mesothelioma, and how to deal with this aggressive disease.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos comes in six different forms, all naturally occurring, and all known carcinogens. With the recent emphasis on organic and locally-produced materials, many people are under the impression that naturally occurring materials are safer than their synthetic counterparts. However, even natural materials can be harmful.
Asbestos was mined in large amounts throughout the last century because of its desirable qualities like flame resistance, sound absorption, tensile strength, and affordability. The very name “asbestos” comes from the Greek word asvestos, which means unquenchable or inextinguishable. These characteristics made asbestos a valuable addition to building materials, so it was used liberally in construction industries worldwide.
The low flammability of asbestos made it perfect for electrical insulation and flame retardants. In this capacity, the mineral was often mixed with concrete or woven into textiles to maximize utility. Other products like tile, building insulation, adhesives, and caulking have all been known to contain asbestos, which means construction professionals are among the highest populations at risk for asbestos exposure.
The mineral was also used in products that need to withstand a lot of friction or heat, like brake pads and linings, gasket linings, and filters. Other professions with high instances of asbestos contact are boilermakers, shipyard workers, and mechanics.
The form of asbestos you’re most likely to encounter is chrysotile asbestos, which is the only asbestos still mined today. According to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, about 90-95% of all asbestos that remains in buildings is chrysotile. The other forms of asbestos are amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite. These are all dangerous carcinogens.
Due to irresponsible abatement techniques and degradation of products containing asbestos over time, asbestos can even be found in soil, air, and water. Though relatively harmless in soil, disturbing the ground can release small particles into the air, where it can be inhaled into the lungs and cause health complications.
How is Asbestos Related to Cancer?
Once inhaled or ingested, asbestos poses a risk of inflammation to internal organs. The most dangerous asbestos-related diseases are asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition developed after asbestos exposure. Lung cancer is a cancer that forms in the lungs due to a number of risk factors. Mesothelioma is another cancer, which affects the linings of internal organs.
The most common form is pleural mesothelioma, which takes root in the lining of lungs. There are two additional forms as well, which are rarer. Peritoneal mesothelioma makes up about 20% of mesothelioma cases and affects the abdominal lining. Pericardial mesothelioma forms in the lining of the heart.
While it can take 20-50 years after asbestos exposure for mesothelioma to take root in your body, this cancer moves quickly after infection. It is one of the longest latency diseases around and hits older demographics hardest, presenting a huge financial burden. Besides the long latency, mesothelioma is also a very aggressive form of cancer, often with a bleak prognosis. Many mesothelioma patients live less than a year after diagnosis.
What to Do:
- First, check your national laws related to asbestos usage and abatement. Many countries have different rules and history with asbestos, so this will give you a good idea of your relative chances for exposure.
- Second, check when the building was built. It’s important to remember that asbestos may still be present in and around your home or workplace, depending on when it was constructed.
- If you suspect asbestos may be present in a product you own, get rid of it. If you think it’s around your home, school, or workplace, contact an asbestos abatement professional.
- Above all, do not attempt to remove the mineral yourself. If you are in the middle of a DIY or renovation project, clear the area and contact a professional.
Asbestos laws vary across the globe. In the UK the mineral is banned, in the US it’s allowed in levels of one percent in products, and in China there are no regulations. Depending on your home country, you might still be at high risk for asbestos exposure. There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of exposure or limit further exposure.
This information may seem daunting, scary, and overwhelming. The best thing to remember is that you do have options for every situation. From legal recourse to treatment, there are resources available that can help you control exposure or cope with a diagnosis.