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Mesothelioma and Asbestos

Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

Dangers of Asbestos

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a very strong and heat resistant fiber. The fiber can be found in rocks and soil. It is extracted by miners, and is used in a variety of different products. Building construction materials have commonly used asbestos, due to it’s heat and fire retardant properties. Houses built in the 1970’s or earlier commonly contained asbestos insulation.

Asbestos had also been used in the production of many manufactured goods including, but not limited to: auto parts, roofing shingles, tiles (floor and ceiling), paper products, heat resistant products, packaging, gaskets, paint, compounds and coating materials.

In stark contrast to its favorable heat resistant properties, asbestos can become an extremely toxic fiber when disturbed and airborne. This can happen if a product is broken, usually during construction, renovation or from wear-and-tear. If you suspect that there could be asbestos in your home you should seek a professional to identify the substance and properly remove it.

The inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to serious health risks over time. The particles remain in your body, and if they built up over time, you are at risk for developing the following:


Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that is very rare and aggressive. It typically comes along with a very ill-fate prognosis. Those diagnosed with mesothelioma can typically expect a life expectancy of 12-24 months. This is all dependent on the location of the cancer, the stage in which it’s detected at, and the type of mesothelioma.

There are three different types of mesothelioma: pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common of the three, affecting between 70-90% of all mesothelioma patients. This type directly affects the lungs and common symptoms include persistent chest pain, weight loss and fever. Peritoneal affects 10-30% of mesothelioma patients and those who have it may also experience increased nausea, due to it’s location in the abdomen. Pericardial mesothelioma is located in the lining of the heart, and as the rarest type, impacts about 1% of mesothelioma patients. Somebody who has pericardial mesothelioma may experience shortness of breath, similar to a heart attack.


Asbestosis, similarly to mesothelioma, is caused solely by exposure to asbestos. This chronic disease can lead to worsening symptoms if not managed. Unfortunately, it can cause heart and lung failure–and even death. When diagnosed with asbestosis, you can want to make sure that you are aware of the potential lifestyle changes that can help improve your quality of life, similarly to other diseases that affect the lungs.

It will be important to maintain a well-balanced diet and exercise regularly. Get plenty of rest and be sure to try your best to prevent infections (wash hands regularly, get shots recommended by doctors, avoid large crowds). It is also crucial to be cognizant of the quality of air you are ingesting. Avoid breathing in pollutants (auto fumes, aerosol, paint, cleaning products, cigarette smoke, etc.) It is also best practice to stay inside as much as possible when pollen and air pollution are high.

Lung Cancer

The inhalation of asbestos fibers can also lead to an increased risk of lung cancer. This is common for people who work in an industry that involves asbestos. Lung cancer, a more common type of cancer than mesothelioma, can be caused by several other factors besides asbestos exposure. Smoking, or being exposed to secondhand smoke, can greatly increase your chances of getting lung cancer.

Common signs include shortness of breath, coughing, hoarseness, fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, and recurrent bronchitis. If you are experiencing these symptoms you should see a doctor, as lung cancer can spread to other parts of the body. Common treatments, like those of other cancers, include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.


Over 60 countries have banned the use of asbestos. However, it is still not banned in the United States and Canada. In the 1970’s the U.S. Federal government passed legislation to limit exposure to the toxic fiber, but unfortunately, it can still be found in products today. One recent breakthrough has came with the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. This act allows the EPA to deem substances toxic. That alone takes our nation a step forward to banning asbestos once and for all. To keep making strides, we must all work together to spread awareness for this toxic fiber

Additional Sources







This post is courtesy of the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.


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