Military veterans comprise the largest occupational group to be impacted by asbestos toxicity and its related medical conditions-including a fatal form of cancer known as mesothelioma.
The following six-part series is dedicated to them.
A highly hazardous carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent-asbestos was used in countless construction projects of every U.S. Military branch, with a particularly high incidence of usage within the U.S. Navy.
Decades after asbestos-containing materials were banned by the military across the board, thousands of vets have been diagnosed with a range of exposure-linked illnesses, incurring millions of dollars in medical costs and an immeasurable amount of pain and grief for both the service men and women affected and the military families forced to endure the tragedy along with them.
In PART THREE, we’ll take a closer look at the most common form of mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs and chest wall. Topics covered in the following sections will include epidemiology, symptomology and a basic description of the disease.
There are four types of mesothelioma, each one defined by its anatomical location of origin, but one of those makes up the vast majority of overall diagnoses-malignant pleural mesothelioma. The cancer is named for the thin layer of mesothelial tissue that covers the lungs and chest cavity, an organ called the pleura. After a victim inhales asbestos fibers, they become lodged in this delicate, film-like barrier, causing damage over time that can result in the formation of scar tissue and subsequent malignancies.
Somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of all mesothelioma victims worldwide are afflicted with the pleural variety. The second most common form of the disease, peritoneal mesothelioma, presents in only 10-20 percent of all cases. The remaining fractions are attributed to pericardial and testicular mesothelioma-both exceedingly rare.
In the U.S., there are around 2300 incidents of malignant pleural mesothelioma reported annually. These are most often found in those over the age of 65 and occur much more frequently in men than women-at a rate of almost 4 to 1, respectively. This gender discrepancy is attributable primarily to the much higher prevalence of asbestos usage in male-dominated industries like construction and automotive repair.
Mesothelioma symptoms are notoriously ambiguous and difficult to recognize-even for highly trained medical professionals. This results in a very high rate of misdiagnosis, making it extremely important for those in the high-risk category (i.e. anyone with a history of asbestos exposure) to know how to recognize the symptoms of early-stage mesothelioma themselves.
One or more of the following symptoms, listed in order by frequency of occurrence, generally first indicate the presence of malignant pleural mesothelioma:
-Shortness of breath
-Chest pain and/or pressure
-A persistent, dry cough
-Sudden and unexplained weight loss