Exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to a deadly form of cancer known as mesothelioma. The good news is that there are several medical procedures today that you can undergo to determine if you are at high risk for or even in the early stages of mesothelioma.
What Is Asbestos and Why Is It so Dangerous?
Asbestos is a material mined from the ground that naturally consists of bundles of tiny fibers. These fibers are resistant to heat and densely packed, which made them an attractive option for home and building insulation before medical experts knew of their deadly effects.
Beginning in the 1960s, scientists drew the link between asbestos and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is an asbestos-specific type of cancer that begins with tumors forming in the lining of tissue in the lungs, heart, or abdomen known as the mesothelium.
Inhaling small particles of anything is never good. But asbestos fibers in particular attack and damage the tissue lining of the lungs. This damage does not present symptoms initially. In fact, part of the challenge with asbestos exposure is that it can take 20 or 30 years before any cancer manifests.
With that in mind, it is essential to be actively on top of any negative developments in your health and wellbeing by paying attention to any deteriorating or persisting conditions and maintaining awareness of significant symptoms.
Potential symptoms of mesothelioma to be on the lookout for include:
- Shortness of breath
- Strange sounds when breathing, such as the sounds of crinkling paper
- Pain in the mid-upper chest just under the ribs
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Testicular pain
- A hard time swallowing
If you are feeling any of these symptoms or a combination of symptoms persistently, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor and get an appointment for diagnosis and follow-up care.
How Do I Test for Asbestos Exposure?
If you have a history of asbestos exposure, getting screened for mesothelioma can be life-saving. Luckily, breakthroughs in modern medicine have made it considerably easier to identify cancer early on. Early detection is essential as any cancer is far easier to treat in the early stages and survival rates are dramatically higher.
After a physical examination, the usual first step to screen for asbestos exposure is a chest x-ray to look for any obvious abnormalities in the lungs. The fibers from the material themselves are too small to be picked up by an x-ray. However, x-rays are a basic first step for noticing the early onset of cancer, particularly tumors on the lungs or surrounding area.
Blood work is always important for detecting cancer. Over the last decades, a new blood test has been developed that screens for a specific asbestos-related cancer called pleural mesothelioma. If your physician has reason to believe you were exposed to asbestos, they will want to check your blood anyway.
CT scans are an option that offers a far more in-depth look inside the body than an x-ray. This is a key step for identifying tumors if your doctor suspects asbestos exposure.
The final and most extreme, but also most accurate, method of identifying asbestos exposure and mesothelioma is a lung biopsy. This is a very invasive procedure that can be done surgically or with a very large biopsy needle.
What Do I Do if I Have Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a serious condition with deadly consequences. But there are effective treatments for maximizing the lifespan and well being of mesothelioma patients. The earlier that the cancer is detected, the better one’s prognosis will be, and this is why asbestos screening is so important for anyone who believes they were exposed, particularly for long periods of time.
Surgery to remove mesothelioma tumors in the lung’s tissue lining is the first step to fighting the cancer. The next steps will depend on what stage the cancer has reached. The disease is divided into four stages ranging from isolated tumors to widespread cancer across multiple organs.
While the disease is fatal, treatment can be very effective. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy remain the leading methods for fighting malignant mesothelioma. However, new biological and targeted forms of therapy continue to be researched and experimented with as scientists and the medical community keep fighting the fight against cancer.