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Asbestos Exposure and Cancer: Who May Be at Risk

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As a naturally occurring, fire-resistant mineral, asbestos was once used extensively as insulation as well as to strengthen other materials. A component of more than 3,000 types of building materials, asbestos was first used in the early 1900s and is found in most construction, including residential, built from the early 1940s until 1978 when its use was banned. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 107,000 primary and secondary schools and 733,000 public and commercial buildings have asbestos-containing materials (ACM).

During the construction and renovation of building structures prior to 1978, workers across many industries were exposed – sometimes for extended periods of time – to asbestos. It is highly friable, meaning that as it ages, asbestos fibers easily break down into tiny, very light filaments that stay in the air a long time when it is disturbed or exposed. Those who have inhaled asbestos fibers often develop serious and deadly respiratory diseases, such as cancer, decades after exposure. The two most common forms of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos are mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Mesothelioma

As a known human carcinogen, there is sufficient evidence that asbestos causes mesothelioma, as well as cancers of the lung, pharynx, and ovary. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer affecting the thin membranes that lines the chest and abdomen, and it is only associated with asbestos exposure. There are about 3,000 new cases diagnosed each year and it is estimated that approximately 20 million people are at risk for developing this rare cancer.

The average life expectancy after diagnosis is 12-24 months, but the prognosis may improve with treatment. Further, since early detection greatly improves the prognosis, familiarity with the symptoms is important. These symptoms include (but are not limited to) chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, fluid buildup, fever and night sweats, and weight loss.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer claims the most lives of all asbestos-related diseases and it is responsible for 37.5% of all occupational lung cancer cases. While mesothelioma affects the membranes lining the lung, lung cancer develops inside the lungs. Microscopic fibers that have lodged inside the lungs cause the lung cells to turn cancerous over time. The risk of lung cancer is much higher for asbestos-exposed workers who also are smokers because smoking impairs the natural ability of the lungs to remove the tiny foreign fibers. Tobacco smoking is responsible for about 80% of deaths from lung cancer in the United States, and exposure to asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer in both smokers and non-smokers.

The average life expectancy after a lung cancer diagnosis varies according to the type and subtype of the disease, the overall health of the patient, and how far the cancer has progressed at the time of diagnosis. Generally speaking, only about 18% of patients survive more than five years after diagnosis and more than half of lung cancer patients die within one year of diagnosis.

Who Is at Risk?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 40,100 deaths from mesothelioma between 2005 and 2014, with 70% of those deaths being work related. Lung cancer traced to asbestos exposure is responsible for about 6,000 deaths per year. Workers and those who handled finished products containing asbestos are at high risk of occupational exposure caused by loose asbestos fibers.

Although any amount of exposure can cause mesothelioma and/or lung cancer, some occupations involve higher rates of exposure. In fact, due to secondhand exposure even the loved ones of these workers could be at risk. Those occupations posing the greatest risk are:

  • Shipyard workers
  • Construction workers
  • Miners
  • Farmers
  • HVAC workers
  • Industrial workers
  • Machine operators
  • Mechanics
  • Merchant marines
  • Metal workers
  • Oil refinery workers
  • Railroad workers
  • Firefighters
  • Hairdressers
  • Veterans

If you have been exposed to asbestos, talk to your doctor and seek regular screening for asbestos-related diseases.

While federal regulations establish guidelines for owners of public and commercial buildings to test for asbestos-containing materials, there are no guidelines regarding the presence of asbestos in residential properties. Additionally, since improper removal may further contaminate the air within the structure, the removal process requires state-licensed technicians and specially sealed environments.

If you own or inhabit a structure at risk for the presence of asbestos, remember – only a certified asbestos inspector/contractor should perform an inspection of the structure to identify which building materials may contain asbestos. They can also provide recommendations and costs associated with remediation. Because of the well-established link between asbestos and deadly diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, don’t take chances. Call the professionals at Paragon Environmental today at 303-529-1257. Trust them to solve your asbestos problem.

 

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