If you know that your job at one time involved the use of asbestos, symptoms like persistent coughing, chronic bouts of fatigue or significant weight loss could all be signaling the presence of a rare but fatal cancer called mesothelioma. Because many of its victims are not aware of their exposure and resulting risk, mesothelioma is usually not suspected by patients, or their doctors—resulting in the disregard of key symptoms and late-stage diagnosis. For meso victims, late-stage diagnosis usually means minimal opportunity for treatment efficacy, resulting in a maximum mesothelioma life expectancy of two years—and often, less.
Occupational Exposure to Asbestos—the Basics
Occupational exposure is the most common cause of resulting illnesses, including asbestosis, mesothelioma and additional forms of lung or other cancers. A study published in the ‘American Journal of Industrial Medicine’ estimated that approximately 27.5 million U.S. workers were exposed to asbestos on the job between 1940 and 1979. Post-1980, incidents of exposure are believed to be much less frequent, because by then government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) had taken action to limit and severely restrict asbestos manufacturing and usage.
Most of the occupations that caused exposure were made up primarily of “blue-collar” workers—a colloquial term describing unskilled or trade laborers in industries like manufacturing and maintenance. As such, the majority of mesothelioma sufferers have historically been men at a rate on just over 80 percent between 1999 and 2005. This trend continues today.
High-risk Occupational Categories
Many trade workers and general laborers were likely exposed to asbestos during its peak usage of the early 1970s, as well as during the decades preceding that period. Certainly, other types of job holders—from teachers to secretaries—were also routinely exposed if the building in which they worked contained asbestos materials. But the highest risk occupational categories—those most likely to not only have experienced routine exposure but also most likely to have been in close contact with the hazardous materials—include: mechanics, construction workers or builders, railroad employees, plumbers, electricians and other types of maintenance contractors.
After Asbestos: Symptoms to be on the Lookout for
A known history of exposure to asbestos indicates that symptoms like pervasive coughing and abdominal pain or swelling should be be taken very seriously. Mesothelioma cancer usually takes between 10 and 40 years to fully develop, meaning that even if exposure occurred several decades ago, risk levels are still high for the individual who experienced it.
Workers who have been exposed to asbestos and have symptoms like chest pain, persistent coughing, wheezing or a persistently hoarse voice may be showing signs of the most common type of mesothelioma—plural, which affects the lining of the lungs. A noticeable mass or fluid in one’s abdomen, usually accompanied by localized pain and often, digestive disturbance as well, can be a sign of advanced peritoneal mesothelioma—affecting the lining of the stomach and abdominal cavity.
Anyone who has known or suspected occupational exposure to asbestos and is experiencing the above described physical conditions is advised to seek medical consultation immediately. It is also vital that the consulting physician be made aware of the patient’s work history so that an accurate examination and analysis of presenting symptoms may be performed.