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Who is at risk for mesothelioma?

When your shortness of breath, coughing and chest pain could be signs of a life-threatening disease, you want to act. You want to find someone who can help diagnose your problem correctly and start you with the best available treatment. This is particularly true if doctors often misdiagnose your disease because its symptoms resemble too many other, more common ailments.

Every year, roughly 3,200 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. Most of them are diagnosed too late to receive the most aggressive forms of treatment. This is because there's currently no direct test for the disease and its symptoms are the symptoms of other diseases as well. But there is one thing that separates mesothelioma from the other diseases with similar symptoms, and that is a history of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma

People who alert their doctors to their history of asbestos exposure may be more likely to get a good diagnosis early. In turn, that could mean more access to aggressive treatments. So how do you know if you have a history of asbestos exposure?

There are different ways people can be exposed to asbestos. Because of its natural heat resistance, the mineral was for years widely used in insulation and other building construction materials. As the EPA reports, asbestos was also commonly used in ceiling and floor tiles, brake pads and even heat resistant fabrics and packaging. Accordingly, people who worked with these materials have suffered the most asbestos exposure--and the most cases of mesothelioma. These include people in such industries as:

  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Plumbing
  • Auto repair
  • The U.S. Navy

The Centers for Disease Control hosts a more extensive list of high-risk occupations, and it notes that the risks have changed over the years. For example, in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the emergency workers who responded to the scene exposed themselves to airborne asbestos. Many of these men and women have since developed cancers that may be related to their work at the site.

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