Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that is commonly associated with asbestos exposure. It can take decades after exposure for mesothelioma to develop, but this does not mean that asbestos exposure is a thing of the past.
Some commercial products in the United States still use asbestos, and those who work with those products may have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma. Workers can also inhale or ingest asbestos from old products that contain the substance and are still in use.
Asbestos is a mineral known for its insulative and fire-resistant qualities, and it is because of these qualities that manufacturers added it to numerous products over the years. When someone or something disturbs these products, asbestos particles can become airborne where someone could easily inhale or swallow them. Once in the lungs or stomach, the asbestos particles irritate the body, which can lead to the formation of cancers such as mesothelioma.
Which workers may be most at risk?
According to Occupational Health & Safety, the five occupations most affected by asbestos, include:
- Railroad work: The railroad industry used asbestos as insulation for railroad equipment, such as boilers, engines, pipes and electrical panels.
- Shipbuilding: Gaskets, insulation, filters, caulking and sealants used on many recreational, commercial and naval ships included asbestos.
- Factory work: Factories produced countless products that contain asbestos. In addition, the conveyor belts and even the machines themselves could contain asbestos.
- Construction work: Asbestos is common in many building materials, such as drywall, shingles, spackling, tiles and concrete.
- Mining: Asbestos is a mineral that people mined in the United States until 2002. Because it is naturally-occurring, miners may also encounter the substance unintentionally when mining a different substance.
Those who currently or previously worked in these high-risk fields may consider scheduling regular cancer screenings. It may also be prudent for other household members to schedule regular screenings. Although workers may have the highest risk of inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers, family members to be exposed to the particles carried home on the worker’s clothes.
It is important that doctors properly identify mesothelioma as early as possible if it does develop. An early diagnosis can mean that more treatment options are available.