Before the 1970s, asbestos was a widely used home and manufacturing additive for its heat and fireproof resistant properties. Due to this, asbestos fibers can be found in buildings and products alike, and although it is banned in the UK, there have been lasting detrimental and cancerous effects through first, second, and third-wave exposure.
In the U.S., this carcinogen is still permitted at 1% use, and since there is no safe amount of asbestos exposure, Mesothelioma Awareness Day is that much more consequential.
Mesothelioma Awareness Day sheds light on mesothelioma treatment, prevention, patient advocacy, and unity for those affected by this aggressive disease. Mesothelioma has direct ties to exposure to asbestos, a mineral that is found in talc, among other materials, and can impact individuals in a vast range of occupations and places.
Asbestos is sourced throughout naturally occurring mining deposits worldwide. Asbestos deposits are generally found near talc and vermiculite deposits, and so these minerals may eventually become contaminated with microscopic asbestos fibers. Although there are six types of asbestos, they all are considered hazardous. The two main differences are whether asbestos materials are friable or non-friable, which describes the ability for the material to deteriorate by hand.
The former includes products that are easily destructible manually like thermal or spray-on insulation. This type has a higher chance of developing severe diseases and health conditions because of the characteristics of asbestos fibers, which can easily be inhaled. Non-friable asbestos cannot be destroyed by hand, but the fibers can still be disrupted by sawing, cutting, or sanding, making it safer as it can be left and still contain asbestos without directly exposing individuals. Examples of products containing non-friable asbestos include roof shingles and vinyl flooring.
When a product is broken in any way that exposes an individual to asbestos, this mineral can provoke severe health risks. The most aggressive disease that may result from inhalation or ingestion of asbestos is mesothelioma, a cancer affecting nearly 38,400 people around the world annually. There are several types of mesothelioma based on tumor location. While pleural mesothelioma (lungs) makes up the majority of diagnoses, peritoneal mesothelioma affects the abdomen and accounts for 15-20% of all cases.
Asbestos exposure could also lead to other diseases like pleural plaques, pleural effusions, or asbestosis. Some of these conditions may be benign, where the lining of the lungs thicken after prolonged asbestos exposure in the case of pleural plaques. In other cases, excess fluid between the chest cavity and the lining of the lungs, known as pleural effusion and is a preceding symptom of mesothelioma. For asbestosis, lung inflammation and scarring caused by asbestos can develop into a more serious lung condition.
Mesothelioma primarily affects senior citizens with a median age of 74 years when diagnosed. These people were generally exposed to asbestos when they were younger, as the life-threatening effects of asbestos may not present until decades later. With a short life expectancy of 12-21 years, mesothelioma is considered an aggressive cancer.
There are still developing treatments to improve the prognosis for mesothelioma patients. Surgery, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are current options, but there are also multimodal approaches, where any of these treatments are combined for targeted effectiveness. In the most common type of mesothelioma, pleural, which affects the lung region, mesothelioma pleurocentesis is a surgical procedure to remove fluid. This minimally invasive approach can help relieve patients experiencing breathing difficulty and is an example that while treatment can improve the prognosis for a patient, it cannot be a cure.
Many occupations may come in contact with asbestos. As it is mined, it is naturally exposed and miners, industrial workers, factory workers, and construction workers may be at risk. Handling asbestos is dangerous, and the fibers may stick to clothing or become airborne making it more dangerous. Agricultural workers are also known to be affected through deteriorating machinery, barns, and other operating equipment.
To prevent exposure, asbestos surveys are required before renovation to buildings, especially if it was constructed before the 1980s. Asbestos abatement professionals can remove this mineral and should be hired to ensure that it is not contaminating other areas or the air quality. Occupations that could potentially handle asbestos should inform their employees of these critical endangerments. Regulations and laws are to be enforced and compliance is mandatory for a safer environment.
There are several safer alternatives to asbestos use; amorphous silica fabrics, flour fillers, cellulose fibers, and polyurethane foam are all verified substitutes that do not cause mesothelioma. Cessation of the use of asbestos is essential to eliminate further use, where even a small amount is harmful. While the government agencies can recognize and warn individuals, and more successful treatment is emerging, this cancer can be eradicated by advocacy and prevention.
Mesothelioma Awareness Day calls attention to the severity of this cancer and the various occupations, families, doctors, and advocates involved. The United Kingdom is one of the most impacted countries with mesothelioma diagnoses; however, despite having banned asbestos there back in 1999 already, United Kingdom still deals with this cancer as a result of the long latency period. Other countries (such as the US) have yet to implement a total ban, and until that happens, awareness is a significant preventative measure.