Today is Mesothelioma Awareness Day, marked across the country by events raising awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure. In the United States, there are over 2,500 annual mesothelioma-related deaths. In total, from 1999 to 2010, there were over 31,000 mesothelioma deaths in the U.S. alone.

The primary cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, which is a material made up of six minerals and is still used in many items today. It’s not know how much exposure is needed to lead to an asbestos-related disease.

The goal of Mesothelioma Awareness Day is to help people understand the potential for asbestos exposure and what to do if you come across it. By limiting this exposure, we can reduce the number of mesothelioma victims every year. Here are common questions and answers about asbestos and mesothelioma:


What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that is often used in a variety of building products especially including insulation. Asbestos fibers are very strong, durable, and resistant to fires, which made it an attractive product to use when building homes, office structures, and schools.

When research connected asbestos with severe health risks, regulations were put in place to limit asbestos use. However, there is no official ban on asbestos in the United States despite it being banned in over 55 countries around the world.


What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that develops specifically in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. Most mesothelioma cases are directly related to asbestos exposure.

The process usually begins when someone breathes airborne asbestos fibers. Since asbestos is strong and rigid, when inhaled or swallowed, the fibers become lodged in certain areas, especially the lungs. The fibers cause scar tissue, which in turn allows cancer cells to grow.

Symptoms of mesothelioma are commonly mistaken for other diseases or illnesses, and the process of diagnosis can be further complicated by the fact that symptoms can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years develop. The difficulty of diagnosis often means that mesothelioma is discovered late, leading to low life expectancy of around 21 months for mesothelioma patients.


Is asbestos in my home, office, or school?

It can be difficult to know just by looking if asbestos was used in the construction of your home, office or school. Generally, asbestos looks like an attic insulation or like a thick, somewhat fuzzy substance. The risk is highest in buildings constructed before the mid-1980s. The harmful fibers themselves are microscopic and cannot be seen in air. Good sources of information about the possible use of asbestos in your home construction include your real estate agent or landlord. In addition to insulation this gallery shows some of the other products that commonly use asbestos, including the following:

  • Certain roofing and siding
  • Insulation in walls and attics
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Hot water or steam pipes coated in asbestos
  • Certain fabrics that are considered heat resistant
  • Brakes and even clutches in certain automobiles

Is all asbestos dangerous?

Many people wonder why, if asbestos is so dangerous, it is still used in the construction of about half the homes and buildings in the United States. The answer is that most products that use asbestos now safely enclose it so that fibers are unable to become airborne.

However, many of these products can wear down over time. For example, roofing, siding, and walls can all become old, cracked or broken. When this occurs, asbestos can become disturbed in a way that allows it to become airborne.

Knowing where asbestos is located in your home allows you to pay extra attention to upkeep and remodeling in those sections of the property. In addition, if these sections start wearing down, knowing the location of asbestos can allow you to avoid exposure.


What should I do if I find asbestos in my home?

Whether you come across exposed asbestos or you find out that you have asbestos somewhere in your home, consider working with a licensed asbestos inspector to evaluate the risk and decide on next steps. An inspector can discover whether the asbestos in your property is dangerous and suggest if you should get it removed.

Never try to remove asbestos by yourself. Removal experts are highly trained and have the protective equipment needed to ensure safety. Regular construction masks and clothing will not protect you from airborne asbestos.


What steps should I take if I think I was exposed to asbestos?

If you or a loved one think you have been exposed to asbestos, it is best to see a doctor immediately. A doctor who specializes in mesothelioma will be able to discuss options to monitor your health or treat any asbestos-related conditions that exist. When in doubt, remember that it’s always better to be safe than sorry – late diagnosis is a major factor driving deaths from the disease. Treatments are significantly more successful when the disease is detected early.


Stay safe today and every day!

Experts predict that due to the time it takes for mesothelioma symptoms to develop, exposures that happened years ago will lead to an increase in mesotheliomas being diagnosed, with a spike around the year 2020. The decisions you make today can help ensure that mesothelioma rates drop after that. By spreading the message of asbestos awareness, we can keep exposures today from leading to diagnoses many years from now.