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The most effective way to prevent mesothelioma is to avoid asbestos. Asbestos exposure is the leading risk factor for mesothelioma. While governments and employers have taken steps to reduce exposure, more measures are needed in the workplace and in older buildings to reduce the incidence of this cancer.
Can Mesothelioma Be Prevented?
Yes, mesothelioma is preventable in the majority of cases. Asbestos is the leading cause of and risk factor for mesothelioma. Preventing exposure to asbestos prevents nearly all cases of mesothelioma.
For people already exposed, there is no clear way to prevent developing mesothelioma, but this doesn’t mean anyone exposed will get it. Even among people who worked with asbestos, mesothelioma is rare.
Asbestos: Number One Risk Factor
To prevent mesothelioma, it is important to understand the risk factors. The biggest risk factor is asbestos. Use of this natural mineral is now restricted; however, it was once commonly used in construction,, shipbuilding, and other industries.
Asbestos was popular in these industries because it has unique qualities that make it useful in products like insulation, fireproofing, wall compounds, roofing, and more. These unique qualities include strength, durability, and heat, fire, electricity, and chemical corrosion resistance.
The fibers of this mineral, when airborne, are easily inhaled. Once in the body, these fibers lodge in tissues, causing damage at the cellular level over time.
For some people, this damage leads to asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, or other illnesses. Asbestos is not the only cause of mesothelioma, but it is the leading factor in most cases.
Prevention in the Workplace
Asbestos exposure has largely occurred in workplaces. Anyone working in construction, shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing or repair, mines, and many other industries has been put at risk of asbestos exposure.
Working around this mineral is potentially dangerous, and workers must take precautions to prevent mesothelioma.
Although federal and state laws regulate the use of asbestos, anyone working around asbestos may still be at risk of exposure. To prevent mesothelioma, they must follow all safety guidelines and use personal protective gear.
People working around asbestos may also put their families at risk by carrying loose fibers home on clothing, hair, and shoes. To prevent contaminating the home, workers should carefully remove protective gear and change clothes to remove asbestos fibers.
As asbestos lingers in older buildings and worksites, some workers are still at risk of asbestos exposure:
- Construction workers
- Demolition or renovation workers
- Insulation workers
- Shipyard and ship repair workers
Federal Workplace Safety Standards for Asbestos
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set guidelines to keep workers safe and prevent asbestos-related illnesses. These standards are set specifically for construction sites, shipyards, and general industries.
Standards to protect workers include several measures:
- A permissible exposure limit of 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter of air is the maximum concentration of asbestos allowed on a jobsite.
- Employers must assess and monitor the workplace for asbestos to maintain this limit.
- Workers must be trained if they work with asbestos or in areas that will exceed the permissible exposure limit.
- Those areas must be demarcated and include signage to warn of the increased risk of asbestos exposure.
- Decontaminated break or lunch areas must be maintained separately from workplace areas with asbestos.
- For some workers, medical surveillance must be provided to detect early signs of illness caused by asbestos.
Federal Limitations on Asbestos and Mesothelioma Prevention
In addition to workplace restrictions and safety standards set by OSHA, there are federal regulations for asbestos use to protect people and prevent mesothelioma and other illnesses.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has guidelines for detecting and removing asbestos from schools and public buildings:
- The National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants law includes rules for minimizing exposure during renovations and demolitions of buildings.
- The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act requires that schools undergo asbestos inspection and put in place management plans if asbestos is found.
It also has regulations for the release of asbestos into the air from factories and demolition of buildings and has limits on asbestos levels in air and water.
The EPA has also set limitations on asbestos products. For example, asbestos is no longer allowed in fireplace components.
Managing Asbestos in the Home
Mesothelioma prevention is important at home. Although the EPA was unsuccessful in banning asbestos-containing products, homes built after the 1970s contain little or no asbestos; however, you probably have asbestos if you live in an older home.
Most asbestos should be well contained, but renovation projects can lead to asbestos exposure. If you plan a renovation in your older home, you could expose asbestos and contaminate the air.
This can be prevented by hiring a trained and licensed professional. If asbestos is found, an abatement company can remove or contain it.
How to Protect Yourself from Asbestos
The best thing anyone can do to prevent developing mesothelioma is to avoid asbestos or take precautions when around it.
For people who worked with asbestos, there are preventative measures beyond workplace safety guidelines. If you work around asbestos, inform your doctor and request a regular screening to monitor your health.
Most people do not work with or around asbestos, but exposure can still occur in the environment or home. The best protection is awareness. If you have an older home, get it checked for asbestos and consider remediation options.
Find out if you live near an industrial facility that uses asbestos or a natural deposit that could contain asbestos.
How to Assess Your Chances of Having Mesothelioma
It is important to remember that mesothelioma is rare. Even among people exposed to asbestos, this is a rare cancer.
Still, asbestos exposure is the leading risk factor. To assess your risk for mesothelioma, it helps to know the extent of your past exposure. The longer and more frequently you were exposed to asbestos, the greater the chances you will develop mesothelioma.
Early Diagnosis and Management of Mesothelioma
For many, it is too late to prevent mesothelioma. Years of asbestos exposure on the job caused asbestos-related illnesses for many people.
Mesothelioma is difficult, causing late diagnoses for some. There is little hope for survival over a few months during the later stages of this aggressive cancer. This is why mesothelioma early detection is so important.
Prevention of the worst symptoms of mesothelioma could be easier with better diagnostic tools and improved disease management. Researchers are working on diagnosing mesothelioma more accurately, allowing it to be caught earlier and treated more effectively. Newer diagnostic techniques, including blood tests for biomarkers, may allow for earlier diagnosis.
Early Mesothelioma Symptoms
In addition to being aware of any past asbestos exposure, know the early signs of mesothelioma to get a diagnosis sooner. The early symptoms of pleural mesothelioma are:
- A dry, persistent cough
- Shortness of breath and getting winded easily
- Mild chest pains
Early symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea or constipation
How Long Does it Take to Get Mesothelioma After Asbestos Exposure?
Mesothelioma’s latency period—the time between asbestos exposure and symptom development or diagnosis—is long. It can range from 14 to 72 years, with a median of around 40 years.
There isn’t a lot you can do to prevent mesothelioma after exposure, but a healthy lifestyle helps. Eat well, maintain a healthy weight, get regular exercise, and do not smoke or quit smoking. Most importantly, see your doctor regularly for cancer screenings.
Prevention of mesothelioma is better today than ever before. Although asbestos has not been banned from all applications, more restrictions and safety regulations limit exposure. There is also more information available for those at risk. If this includes you, learn more about this disease and take steps to prevent developing mesothelioma.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.