Mesothelioma diagnosis might follow decades of high-risk work

Pittsburgh residents who have been diagnosed with a serious occupational disease such as mesothelioma know that their time left might be short. That's why it's important to make sure that their loved ones will be taken care of if the disease proves to be too much to overcome -- and if it can be shown to have been generated by working conditions that led someone to be exposed to known risk factors, such as asbestos.

In fact, as much as 75 percent of mesothelioma case are due to asbestos exposure. The conditions in many work environments of the past led many people to be exposed, leading to this occupational disease being diagnosed later in life.

Asbestos is particularly dangerous because of its ability to be inhaled into the lungs. It often appears in fibers that, when present in the air, can stick inside the throats and the breathing tubes attached to the lungs.

What is particularly frustrating about mesothelioma and asbestos is that a person who has been exposed may not show symptoms or be diagnosed for many years after that exposure. Additionally, some people who are exposed never develop mesothelioma, while others who have minimal exposure do contract the disease.

In large part, the use of asbestos in many applications in the U.S. has been minimal in the last 25 years. However, because of the long period between exposure and diagnosis, it is likely that many retired workers will continue to be diagnosed with mesothelioma or another occupational lung disease in the years to come.

Source: American Cancer Society, "What are the risk factors for malignant mesothelioma?" retrieved May 21, 2014

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