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Prevention is usually the best medicine. However, some diseases hard to prevent. With mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer, one overriding risk factor makes prevention of future cases possible, though for many, it is already too late.
Asbestos exposure is the leading risk factor for mesothelioma. While there have been steps taken to reduce exposure, more preventative measures are needed in the workplace and in older buildings. When these preventative measures fail, early detection is the key to avoiding the worst outcomes.
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 and shipbuilding. 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 resistance to heat, fire, electricity, and chemical corrosion.
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 have 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.
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 aimed at protecting people and preventing mesothelioma and other illnesses. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has guidelines for detecting and removing asbestos from school and public buildings. 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, if you live in an older home, you probably have asbestos.
Most asbestos should be well contained. However, renovation projects can lead to asbestos exposure. If you are planning 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.
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. During the later stages of this aggressive cancer, there is little hope for survival longer than a few months.
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.
For people who worked with asbestos, there are preventative measures beyond workplace safety guidelines. If you work around asbestos, inform your doctor. Request regular screening to monitor your health. Be aware of the symptoms of mesothelioma and how screening can prevent a late-stage, low-hope diagnosis. Newer diagnostic techniques, including blood tests for biomarkers, may allow for earlier diagnosis.
Prevention of mesothelioma is better today than ever before. Although asbestos has not been banned from all applications, there are more restrictions and safety regulations to 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.
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.