Mesothelioma and Asbestos

Mesothelioma is a particularly deadly form of cancer which has only one known cause, exposure to asbestos

As the link between mesothelioma and asbestos has become well known, the use of asbestos sharply declined. Most use stopped after 1989, but it is still used in some products. Experts have linked this drop in asbestos use to the fact that the rate of development of mesothelioma is no longer increasing [in the U.S.]. Still, up to 8 million Americans may already have already been exposed to asbestos.

There is no safe level of asbestos and until there is a complete and total ban on asbestos our children will continue to face the dangers associated with asbestos exposure.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as many as 733,000 schools and public buildings in the country today contain asbestos insulation. As many as 10 to 15 percent of schools in the United States may contain asbestos insulation.

People who may be at risk for occupational asbestos exposure include some miners, factory workers, insulation manufacturers, railroad workers, ship builders, gas mask manufacturers, and construction workers, particularly those involved with installing insulation. Several studies have shown that family members of people exposed to asbestos at work have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma, because asbestos fibers are carried home on the clothes of the workers.

Another important point about asbestos and mesothelioma is that the risk of mesothelioma does not drop with time after exposure to asbestos. The risk appears to be lifelong and undiminished.

When asbestos fibers are inhaled, most are cleared in the nose, throat, trachea (windpipe), or bronchi (large breathing tubes of the lungs). Fibers are cleared by sticking to mucus inside the air passages and being coughed up or swallowed.

The long, thin, fibers are less readily cleared, and they may reach the ends of the small airways and penetrate into the pleural lining of the lung and chest wall. These fibers may then directly injure mesothelial cells of the pleura, and eventually cause mesothelioma.

Asbestos fibers can also damage cells of the lung and result in asbestosis (formation of scar tissue in the lung), and/or lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer among people exposed to asbestos is increased by 7 times, compared with the general population. Indeed, asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer are the 3 most frequent causes of death and disease among people with heavy asbestos exposure.

Peritoneal mesothelioma, which forms in the abdomen, may result from coughing up and swallowing inhaled asbestos fibers. Cancers of the larynx, pancreas, esophagus, colon, and kidney may also come from asbestos exposure, but the increased risk is small.

The risk of developing a mesothelioma is related to how much asbestos a person was exposed to and how long this exposure lasted. People exposed at an early age, for a long period of time, and at higher levels are most likely to develop this cancer. Mesotheliomas take a long time to develop. The time between first exposure to asbestos and diagnosis of mesothelioma is usually between 20 and 50 years.

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