Veterans and Mesothelioma
One of every three patients diagnosed with mesothelioma are veterans. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs (pleura), the abdomen (peritoneum), or the heart (pericardium). It’s primarily caused by extensive exposure to a carcinogenic (cancer-causing) mineral called asbestos. Asbestos is a fireproofing product that was once highly used in many industrial capacities, including within the U.S. military. Moreover, people are still discovering its illegal presence on construction sites, residences, and old buildings.
Asbestos Exposure During Military Service
Since asbestos was cheap, reliable, and resistant to fire, electricity, and chemical corrosion, it was used in many construction capacities. Too, the military was a large user of the mineral. Often, veteran’s exposure to asbestos can be connected to the fiber’s presence in:
- Pipes and plumbing
- Automobiles, ships, and aircraft
Veterans who served in any of these jobs or occupations are also at risk for asbestos exposure:
- Floor and roofing manufacturers and installers
- Shipyard work
- Insulation work
- Demolition, construction, or remodeling of old structures
- Steel crew
Veterans who’ve served in the Middle East or Southeast Asia may have been exposed to the carcinogen when older structures were damaged and the asbestos fibers expelled into the air, potentially being ingested by residents and servicemembers nearby.
Navy Mesothelioma Diagnoses
Among the military branches, the Navy has the most abundant use of asbestos-contaminated materials. In 1939, the Navy surgeon general released a report warning about the connection of asbestos to other diseases (such as mesothelioma and asbestosis). Nonetheless, usage still remained constant.
Sailors that may be at risk for exposure include:
- Aviation machinist mates
- Boiler technicians
- Damage controlmen
- Gunner’s mates
- Hull maintenance
- Machinery repair
Veterans who were diagnosed with mesothelioma may be eligible for VA compensation. To find out if you qualify, speak with a patient advocate today.
Mesothelioma Development Timeline
Exposure to asbestos fibers can take over 40 years to develop into mesothelioma with noticeable symptoms. As such, seniors are the most affected by the disease. The illness progresses along a timeline from stages 1 through 4 (each with its own symptoms, treatment options, and recovery statistics).
Timeline of Symptoms
The location of mesothelioma tumors comes with a different progression of symptoms to look out for. Symptoms also vary based on stage and the individual’s overall health. Additionally, each veteran is different and may not exhibit the same symptoms as others diagnosed with the same illness.
Symptoms for mesothelioma when it has spread to the pleura (i.e., into the lining of the lung cavity) include:
- Issues swallowing
- Pain inside of chest or lower back
- Shortness of breath
- Hoarse throat
- Swelling of the face and arms
Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma in the lining of the abdomen (i.e., the peritoneal cavity) include:
- Abdominal (belly) pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swelling in the abdomen
When tumors make it to the lining of the sac around the heart (otherwise known as the pericardial cavity) symptoms may include:
- Chest pain
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Heart murmur
- Shortness of breath
For many patients, these signs are commonly mistaken for other illnesses. See your doctor immediately if you exhibit any of these symptoms.
Once you start developing symptoms and visit your doctor, it’s time for them to administer tests to make a diagnosis. A formal diagnosis is your doctor’s official medical analysis of your condition.
While doctors can administer imaging and blood tests to determine illness, a biopsy is the most definitive method for an official diagnosis. Biopsies involve removing fluid or tissue via a needle. The cells are then analyzed under a microscope for the presence of cancer. There are several types of biopsies a doctor can administer to a patient. Some more common biopsies include needle, camera-assisted, and surgical biopsies.
Mesothelioma has 4 stages, each with its own characteristics and details.
- Localized to one side of the body
- No spreading to other organs
- Few or no symptoms
- Potentially curative treatment available
- Best prognosis
- Still confined to one side
- Some spreading to lymph nodes or nearby organs
- Mild symptoms
- Potentially curative treatments available
- Fair prognosis
- Tumors still on one side of the body
- Tumor metastasizes to lymph nodes or other nearby organs
- Mild to severe symptoms
- Palliative treatment options
- Poor prognosis
- Tumors on both sides of the body
- Spread of cancer to lymph nodes and other organs
- Most severe symptoms
- Only palliative treatment options
- Poorest prognosis
In stages 1 and 2, your doctor can still offer you curative treatment options, whereas stages 3 and 4 focus on palliative care. The curative treatments work on fighting and removing the tumors and trying to increase survival, while palliative care options fight against symptoms of illness and aim to help the patient feel as comfortable as possible in the time that they have left.
Your doctor will be able to create the best treatment plan for you based on your overall health, stage of the disease, and several other factors. Your doctor may choose to administer one treatment option or a combination of them. Currently, the top treatment options are:
- Chemotherapy – This is a form of treatment for cancer that focuses on slowing down or stopping cells from dividing. Some types of chemotherapy fight the cell-dividing process, while others kill individual cells. Chemotherapy can be administered throughout the entire body or during surgery.
- Surgery – An invasive form of treatment, surgery involves a surgeon removing the tumors on the operating table, and usually is performed in conjunction with other treatments like chemotherapy.
- Radiation – A therapy that uses high-energy particle beams to fight tumors within a specific area. Radiation can shrink cancer tumors as well as minimize pain related to them. It’s often used with chemotherapy or surgery.
- Targeted treatment – A newer form of treatment, targeted therapy directs treatment to specific abnormal cells to stop them from metastasizing. Targeted treatment often boasts fewer side-effects than treatments that bathe an entire area in medication.
Veterans with mesothelioma can take action without affecting their benefits.
Life Expectancy and Recovery Timeline
Usually, a diagnosis is followed by the veteran’s anticipated life expectancy, as well as their recovery options. A patient’s “life expectancy” is the doctor’s informed estimation of how much time a patient has left to live after the diagnosis. This determination is based on the patient’s biological sex, genetics, age, and overall health, among other factors (making each timeline different).
After undergoing treatment, the patient must take it easy and abstain from regular, everyday tasks that require a lot of strain or physical activity. Your doctor will be able to give you the best information on how much you should or should not do, and for how long. It’s essential to follow their instructions to avoid injury.
Exposure to asbestos on the job is usually due to employer negligence, and you could be entitled to compensation if your exposure happened during your military service.
Filing a claim for your case will not affect any VA benefits you may also be entitled to. Talk to an experienced asbestos attorney about the details surrounding the timeline of your diagnosis.