Veterans and Mesothelioma
One-third of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma are veterans. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that can affect 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 very durable product that was once highly used in many industrial capacities, including within the U.S. Military, and people are still discovering its illegal presence on several work sites, residences, and old structures.
Asbestos Exposure Timeline During Time Served
Since asbestos was cheap, reliable, and resistant to fire, electricity, and chemical corrosion, it was used in many construction capacities. The U.S. Military was a large user of the mineral as well, with a veteran’s exposure potentially being connected to asbestos from its use in the construction of:
- Military barracks
- 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 Iraq and other places near that area, such as the Middle East and 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.
Almost 30 percent of mesothelioma patients diagnosed are veterans. Furthermore, the Navy has the most abundant use of asbestos-contaminated materials than any other branch.
The Navy surgeon general released a report in 1939 warning about the connection of asbestos to other diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis, but usage still remained constant.
Some Navy roles that are at risk for exposure include:
- Aviation machinist mates
- Boiler technicians
- Damage controlmen
- Gunner’s mates
- Hull maintenance
- Machinery repair
Mesothelioma Development Timeline
Exposure to asbestos fibers can take over 40 years to develop mesothelioma, making seniors the most extensive group affected by the disease. The illness has a timeline from stages 1 through 4, each with its own symptoms, treatment options, and recovery statistics.
Site locations for mesothelioma come with different symptoms and signs to look out for. Symptoms also vary based on stage and overall individual health. 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 pleural space, or the linings of the lungs, are:
- Issues swallowing
- Pain inside of chest or lower back
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of the face and arms
Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma in the lining of the abdomen, or peritoneal space, include:
- Abdominal (belly) pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swelling or fluid in the abdomen
When tumors make it to the lining of the heart, otherwise known as the pericardial space, symptoms could be:
- Chest pain
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Heart murmur
- Shortness of breath
Mesothelioma can cause these symptoms, but they often get 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 diagnose the reason why you may be experiencing these outcomes. 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 mesothelioma diagnosis. This method of testing involves removing fluid or tissue for testing to determine the presence or extent of disease. There are several types of biopsies a doctor can administer to a patient, some of the more common biopsies include needle, camera-assisted, and surgical biopsies.
Mesothelioma has 4 stages, each with its own characteristics and details. Some information about stages include:
- Localized in 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
- Worst diagnosis
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 produce the best treatment plan for you based on your overall health, stage in the disease, and several other factors.
Your doctor may choose to administer one treatment option or a combination of multiple. The top treatment options for patients with mesothelioma are:
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.
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.
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 associated. It’s often used with chemotherapy or surgery.
A newer form of treatment, targeted therapy does what its name suggests, and targets specific abnormal cells to halt them from metastasizing. Targeted treatment often boasts fewer side-effects than other treatments since they can target particular cells versus other medications that are unable to distinguish the difference between abnormal and healthy tissues.
Life Expectancy and Recovery Timeline
Usually, a diagnosis comes with the veteran’s anticipated life expectancy as well as their recovery options. Life expectancy is the doctors informed opinion on 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 for mesothelioma, 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 time of service. Filing a claim for your case will also not affect any VA benefits you may also be entitled to. Talk to an experienced mesothelioma attorney about the details surrounding the timeline of your mesothelioma diagnosis and development.