Mesothelioma Awareness Day is September 26th - a time dedicated to spreading knowledge, education, and support to those diagnosed or at-risk for asbestos-related cancer.
For decades, products containing asbestos were used across the U.S. military for its low cost and fire-resistant qualities. Once its harmful health effects became known, asbestos use decreased, but it’s still found in many products and materials in use today. Studies show that asbestos exposure is still a problem, even after the widespread ban enacted over 40 years ago.
To support our military community, in today’s article we’re breaking down everything you need to know about this service-related condition and the steps you can take to help spread awareness about veterans and mesothelioma.
What is mesothelioma?
Who is at risk?
What symptoms should you look out for? And what type of support options are available?
Keep reading to learn more.
What is Mesothelioma? What causes it?
Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer found in the lining of the organs - often in the lungs or abdomen, but can also be found around the heart or testicular area. Unfortunately, people with this form of cancer will not show symptoms until the cancer has progressed.
Because this cancer has a period of up to 50 years before the first onset of symptoms, the average life expectancy after prognosis dwindles to between 18 – 31 months.
Mesothelioma develops after being exposed to a small, fibrous mineral called asbestos. When inhaled or swallowed, these tiny fibers attach to the lining of the body’s organs called the mesothelium. Depending on where the mesothelioma develops, will determine the type of mesothelioma that’s diagnosed.
Who is at risk?
Anybody who has ever been exposed to asbestos is at risk of developing mesothelioma. Large quantities of asbestos products and materials were used in every branch of the military. Today, 30% of people diagnosed with mesothelioma are veterans.
Women in the military community are particularly at risk. As our recent highlight shows, women tend to delay their own healthcare due to childcare issues, distance, and scheduling conflicts.
But veterans aren’t the only ones at risk of mesothelioma - family members of veterans could also have been exposed to asbestos through the clothing, body, and hair of a person close to them. Even the simple act of washing a contaminated uniform could have put a person at risk.
Alongside the military community, industrial workers in construction or shipbuilding, firefighters, miners, and mechanics are equally at risk of asbestos exposure and developing mesothelioma.
Symptoms and diagnoses
General symptoms of mesothelioma cancer can include:
- Chest pain or abdominal pain
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
Symptoms of mesothelioma appear once the cancer forms tumors and starts to spread. However, symptoms are commonly misinterpreted as other diseases - making it harder to determine the correct prognosis.
Tracking your health and being aware of the risks and symptoms of asbestos-related mesothelioma is the key to early detection and positive health outcomes.
Treatment & support options
One of the best ways to improve your health outcome is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet, when able. A combination of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation, or surgery are common treatment plan options.
Experimental therapies are available to qualifying patients through clinical trials. Alternative medicines are another path to consider.
Alternative medicines include:
- Chiropractic cancer treatment
- Medical marijuana
- Mind-body therapies
- Nutritional and herbal supplements
If you, or a loved one, are a veteran with mesothelioma or have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, there are several resources available.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers resources for veterans with mesothelioma such as disability, pension, and healthcare benefits. Veteran dependents can also seek special compensation benefits if a veteran passes away from a disease related to asbestos exposure.
For veterans, every day should be mesothelioma awareness day. Being proactive, knowing the risks, and tracking your health is the best way to help prevent mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Do your part and tell your friends, colleagues, and loved ones about mesothelioma to keep others safe from asbestos cancers and disease.