What Is the Cause of Mesothelioma?
This disease is a type of cancer where tumors form in the lining of the lungs (pleura), abdomen (peritoneum), or heart (pericardium). Cancer tumors like mesothelioma tend to form when cell DNA is damaged. This is the same DNA that makes up our genes and is passed from our parents. It also gives instructions to the cell on what to do. More specifically, how to grow, divide into new cells, and then die. When the DNA in cells is damaged, cells are unable to live out their normal processes. The potential outcome being that cells divide rapidly and without the direction to go through cell death. This process can eventually cause cancer.
Asbestos is a mineral that’s found deep underground in rock and soil deposits and is one of the primary causes of mesothelioma cancers. 8 out of 10 people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos. The mineral can be very harmful to humans when they’re exposed over an extended period.
The mineral occurs as a bundle of spindly fibers that, when airborne, may get inhaled or ingested. This causes them to become lodged in the throat, abdomen, or heart tissues of those working or living nearby. After several years of living with lodged fibers that cause irritation, scarring, and damage to the cell DNA, mesothelioma may begin to form tumors to form.
There are six different types of asbestos, but the mineral is classified into two general classes known as the serpentine and the amphibole class. The serpentine class consists of chrysotile (otherwise known as white asbestos). The amphibole class consists of the remaining 5 types of asbestos. These are known as amosite (brown asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos), anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite.
Both classes of the mineral are harmful to human health. Still, the amphibole class can stay in the lungs longer, making exposure to amphiboles result in a higher chance of mesothelioma development than the serpentine class. There are also studies on other comparable silicate minerals that have similar health effects. Also known as “asbestiform” minerals, these toxins are called winchite and richterite and can also cause mesothelioma cancer.
How are People Exposed to Asbestos?
The mineral was initially known for its sturdy properties. Its resistance to fire, electricity, and chemical corrosion made it a staple in many construction projects and materials. The toxin is still being found in work areas, military sites, homes, and industrial items today.
Besides the civilian workforce, The U.S. Military also utilized the mineral in many projects. Veterans make up 1 third of those diagnosed with mesothelioma each year because of the abundance of contaminated materials in the military before the mineral was known to cause cancer and other asbestos-related conditions.
Veterans who were diagnosed with mesothelioma may be eligible for VA compensation. To find out if you qualify, speak with a patient advocate today.
There are several tools, materials, industrial and building products that were made with the mineral. Think, reinforcement, and products that need heat resistance. Insulation, roof and ceiling tiles, pipes, certain types of paint and metal coatings, boilers, automobile parts like clutches and brakes, the list goes on.
Asbestos is most dangerous when it’s “friable,” meaning crumbly or broken down. Typically any environment that enables the toxic fibers to be expelled into the air and ingested by humans. This includes construction, demolition, and renovation sites. Other high-risk areas include Navy and civilian shipyards, plants and factories, military barracks, bases and aircraft, and the attics or basements of older industrial, residential, and commercial structures.
Mines that go deep underground are also high-risk areas for exposure, and not just asbestos mines either. There was a vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana, that unknowingly produced tons of vermiculite intertwined with harmful asbestos fibers. The mine shipped tons of the contaminated product to processing plants all over the United States, further spreading toxic exposure of asbestos to veterans and civilians everywhere.
Symptoms and What to Look For
Developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related disease can sometimes take over 20 years after the initial exposure. Even then, symptoms can often be mistaken for other common and less-severe illnesses. Because of this long latency period, seniors, including veterans, tend to be the largest group affected by mesothelioma. Symptoms and things to look for include:
If the tumors form in the pleural space (tissue lining of the lungs), symptoms can be:
- Chronic cough and hoarseness
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Issues swallowing (the sensation of food getting stuck in the throat)
- Pain in the side of the chest or lower back
Cancerous cells that form in the tissue lining the abdomen may cause the following:
- Belly pain
- Fluid or swelling in the abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
The rarest site of mesothelioma involves tumors growing in the tissue linings of the heart. Symptoms can involve:
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart murmur
- Shortness of breath
Other Asbestos-Related Conditions
Asbestos has also been known to cause other diseases. The next most common being a disease known as asbestosis. Asbestosis forms when the lung tissues become scarred and inflamed from constant irritation from toxic fibers. Other asbestos-related conditions include cancers in the lungs, throat, stomach, colon, or ovaries, COPD (blocked airways), and pleural effusion (liquid in the tissue lining of the lower lungs) to name a few. All of these developments are much less common than mesothelioma.
Veterans with mesothelioma can take action without affecting their benefits.
If you receive a positive mesothelioma diagnosis or notice symptoms and receive a diagnosis for other illnesses, you may want to visit a specialized care facility. Having an experienced doctor who’s had patients with the same disease can be extremely helpful. This will enable you to get the best care and treatment that you need. Additionally, if you are diagnosed with another illness and suspect it to actually be mesothelioma, you can always get a second opinion with a more experienced doctor.
Legal Recourse for Veterans
There are many laws and regulations put in place to protect veterans and civilians from negligent asbestos exposure in the U.S. These laws regulate all activities that require the handling of the mineral, including construction and building projects, renovations, and asbestos abatement (removal).
Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma can get compensation through the VA. This works because the claim you are filing isn’t against the military, but against the companies that produced and supplied asbestos to them. Talk with an experienced mesothelioma attorney about the specifics of your VA benefits case. You may be able to file a claim and be compensated for illness developed from asbestos exposure that occurred during your time of service or otherwise.