Prevention is the best medicine, but for some diseases it is also difficult to achieve. With mesothelioma, an aggressive and rare type of cancer, one overriding risk factor does make it possible to prevent future cases of this disease. However, for many people it is simply too late. Asbestos exposure has caused or been the leading risk factor in most cases of mesothelioma, so any steps taken to reduce that exposure should prevent future diagnoses of this terrible type of cancer. Preventative measures are needed in the workplace and in older homes and buildings, and when that fails, early detection is the key to preventing the worst outcomes.
Asbestos: Number One Risk Factor
To prevent a disease like mesothelioma means understanding the risk factors, and the biggest of these is asbestos. Asbestos is now restricted, but at one time it was used heavily in construction and shipbuilding. With properties like resistance to heat and fire, resistance to electricity, and strength and durability, it has been used in insulation, fireproofing, wall compounds and siding, roofing, and so much more.
The fibers of this mineral, when airborne, can be inhaled. Once in the body they become lodged in tissues and stay there for years, causing damage down to the cellular level. This damage leads, in some people, 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 of the cancer.
Prevention in the Workplace
Asbestos exposure has largely occurred in workplaces. Anyone working in construction, on ships, in shipyards, on vehicles with asbestos brakes, in mines, and in other occupations and workplaces has been put at risk and still may be put at risk for being exposed to asbestos. Working around and with this mineral is dangerous and to prevent mesothelioma, workers must take certain precautions.
Although federal and state laws have been put in place since the dangers of asbestos were discovered, anyone working around asbestos may still be at risk of exposure. To prevent mesothelioma these workers must be careful, follow all work safety guidelines, and use all available and required or recommended personal protective gear. People working around asbestos also put their families at risk by carrying home fibers on their hair and clothes. To prevent contaminating the home, workers should carefully remove protective gear, and change clothes or shower if necessary to remove asbestos fibers.
Federal Workplace Safety Standards for Asbestos
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set guidelines to help keep workers safe and to prevent mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. These standards are set specifically for construction sites, shipyards, and general industries. The standards that have been set 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 workers can be exposed to on the job.
- Employers are to assess and monitor the workplace for asbestos and the air to maintain this limit or lower.
- Workers are supposed to be trained if they will be working with asbestos or in areas that will exceed the permissible exposure limit.
- Those areas are to be demarcated and must include signage to warn workers of the increased risk of asbestos exposure.
- Decontaminated and break or lunch areas must be maintained separately from workplace areas with asbestos.
- For certain 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 also federal limitations and regulations on the use of asbestos, which are aimed at protecting people and preventing mesothelioma and other illnesses. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set guidelines for detecting and removing asbestos from school and public buildings, for the release of asbestos into the air from factories and demolition of buildings, and for limits on amounts of asbestos in air and water.
The EPA has also set limitations on how and in what products asbestos can and cannot be used. For instance, asbestos is no longer allowed in fireplace components used in homes. In 1989 the agency banned all asbestos use, to be phased out over time, but this ban was overturned by the U.S. courts.
Managing Asbestos in the Home
Mesothelioma prevention can also occur in the home. Older homes are likely to have asbestos I them. Although the EPA was not successful in banning all asbestos-containing products, newer homes, those built from the late 1970s onward, do not contain much asbestos, if any at all. If you live in an older home, you probably have asbestos.
Most asbestos should be well contained. The real risk for exposure comes during renovation projects. If you will be doing any kind of project in your older home, you could expose asbestos and cause it to become airborne. It is important to prevent this by first having an assessment done by a trained and licensed professional. If asbestos is found you can have an abatement company remove or contain it so that you can safely proceed with renovations.
Early Diagnosis and Management of Mesothelioma
For some people the prevention of mesothelioma is too late. Years of exposure to asbestos on the job before the dangers were fully realized, has left many people sick with this type of cancer. It is difficult to diagnose mesothelioma and most people are diagnosed in the later stages when there is little hope for survival longer than months or a year.
Prevention of some of the worst effects of mesothelioma, such as a life expectancy of only a few months, may be possible with better, earlier diagnoses, and better management of the disease. Researchers are working on ways to be better able to diagnose mesothelioma accurately, so it can be caught earlier when managing and treating it is more effective.
For those people who know they work around and with asbestos, there are preventative measures that can be taken in addition to following workplace safety guidelines. If you work around asbestos, tell your doctor and get tests done regularly to monitor your health. Be aware of your risks, the symptoms of mesothelioma, and how you can be screened for it and you can prevent a late-stage, low-hope diagnosis. Newer diagnostic techniques, such as blood tests for biomarkers, can help you learn earlier that you have developed this type of cancer.
Prevention of mesothelioma is more possible today than ever before. Although asbestos has not been banned from all applications, there are many more restrictions and safety regulations in place than in the past. There is also a lot more information for people who are at risk. If this includes you, be aware, learn more about this disease, and take steps to prevent developing mesothelioma.
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