A “natural” disaster: asbestos and mesothelioma
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Asbestos, the name given to a group of minerals that occur naturally as masses of strong, flexible fibers, has been used widely since World War II to insulate, strengthen and fireproof thousands of commercial items and products. Asbestos that is bonded into finished products such as walls, tiles and pipes, poses no problems. However, when asbestos fibers are disturbed or damaged, they break into a fine dust of microscopic particles that become airborne and adhere to clothing. Once airborne, they may be inhaled into the lungs and cause permanent irritation and serious health problems, such as malignant mesothelioma.
Because Buffalo is an industrial city, Roswell Park sees an above-average number of patients with mesothelioma. There are certain safeguards that decrease your risk of developing an asbestos-related illness.
- Don’t smoke, and if you do, quit. Studies show that smoking compounds the risk of developing mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.
- Avoid “disturbing” asbestos. If you suspect that there is asbestos in your home, hire a professional asbestos contractor for an analysis and any repair work. Never drill, hammer, cut or move any item that may contain asbestos, such as floor or ceiling tiles.
- Workers who are concerned about asbestos exposure in the workplace should discuss the situation with their employers. Employers are required to follow strict on-the-job regulations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
- If you have a history of asbestos exposure, you are at increased risk for the disease. Talk to your doctor about early screening, and be sure to watch for any symptoms.
Other risk factors
Asbestos exposure is the major cause of malignant mesothelioma. Most, but not all, people with the disease have lived or worked in places where they inhaled or swallowed asbestos particles. Smoking does not directly cause this disease, but is a contributing factor and increases the chances of developing the disease. Another less common risk factor is exposure to simian virus 40 (SV40).
About 3 out of 4 people with malignant mesothelioma are over age 65. The disease is four times more common in men than women.