Mesothelioma: the asbestos cancer

Individuals exposed to asbestos can pay a terrible price

Asbestosis, the serious illness of the lung which results from exposure to the harmful building material asbestos, used widely in the 20th century for fireproofing and insulation purposes, and still present in buildings across Britain today, can lie dormant without displaying symptoms for years. As well as causing shortness of breath for those exposed for long periods to hazardous asbestos fibres, asbestosis victims become one of the highest risk groups for fatal lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of certain of the body’s organs, most commonly the lungs. Though similar to lung cancer, especially in the way it affects breathing, mesothelioma is a different type of illness; it carries with it an 85% chance of becoming terminal within three years of a diagnosis (NHS Choices, 2008).

What are the risks?

Breathing in asbestos fibres present in the fine dust released when asbestos panels are damaged makes you seven times more likely to develop cancer of the lung than the general public. The likelihood of contracting fatal mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis over any other disease is massively increased in workers who are exposed to the risk of asbestos.

The greater the exposure to asbestos fibres, the higher the chance that mesothelioma develops. Amount of time exposed, age, smoking and genetic factors can all affect the likelihood of asbestosis developing complications. (Mesothelioma.com, 2009)

Symptoms of mesothelioma

As with asbestosis, the fact that the illness can take up to 20 years to show its symptoms makes diagnosis a difficult process. When symptoms do develop, they often go unnoticed as common everyday illnesses. It’s important to stress that anyone who could have been exposed to asbestos fibres should mention this if any symptoms do appear. Symptoms of mesothelioma can include:-

  • shortness of breath
  • lower back pain
  • chest pain

and, less frequently

  • difficulty swallowing
  • coughing persistently
  • fever
  • weight loss
  • fatigue

Mesothelioma.com also mentions “muscle weakness, loss of sensory capability, coughing up blood, facial and arm swelling and hoarseness” as symptoms to watch out for. (Mesothelioma.com, 2008)

The prognosis for mesothelioma sufferers

Mesothelioma is a fatal cancer, but not untreatable. As yet, doctors have not discovered a cure, but therapy like radiation, chemotherapy and surgery can help to prolong a patient’s life far more than if the disease received no treatment.

If mesothelioma develops after exposure to asbestos hazards, the personal implications can be devastating for patients and families. Among those at risk are most often construction workers and maintenance and repair staff, but teachers exposed unknowingly to the asbestos in so many British school buildings make up a great number of cases. It’s the duty of the employer to manage the risk of asbestos in the workplace, be it in the school or on site.


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