Why is Mesothelioma Still a Problem?

The primary risk factor for mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Logically, if asbestos is banned in the United States, there should be a decline in mesothelioma diagnoses. Unfortunately, incidence of mesothelioma has not slowed down for several  reasons.

Many people are surprised to learn that though regulations have reduced the frequency at which asbestos is used in the US, it has not been outright banned. Additionally, there is a long latency period between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma onset. Together, these factors mean that new asbestos related mesothelioma cases are still appearing.

U.S. asbestos use

Starting in the late 1800s, manufacturers began incorporating asbestos into products to take advantage of its fire-retardant qualities. By the 1970s, it was being used in building products, heat-sensitive manufacturing equipment, brake linings, paint, and more.

Combined, there were more than 800,000 metric tons of asbestos produced or imported in this country in 1973. In that year, the US began phasing out the use of asbestos when the EPA adopted a ban on spray-applied surfacing of fireproofing/insulating material containing asbestos. Since then, a number of regulatory updates have chipped away at the permissible importation, production, and use of asbestos, but it has not been eliminated. Even in 2011, 1,100 metric tons of asbestos were still imported into the country.

Latency period of mesothelioma

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately 2,500 new cases of mesothelioma confirmed each year in the United States. Even as asbestos has been slowly phased out of use, a long latency period means that individuals who were exposed  decades ago may still develop symptoms.

Some estimates say that at least 20 million people could develop mesothelioma. Many people could also develop other asbestos-related illnesses. Even those who do not develop mesothelioma may develop asbestosis or lung cancer.

Diagnosing mesothelioma

For people who develop asbestos-related cancer, signs usually do not appear until 10 to 50 years after initial exposure. There are several types of mesothelioma, categorized by the part of the body in which the tumors begin to form, and the symptoms for each can vary. Unfortunately, since the onset is delayed so long after asbestos exposure, the symptoms can often be written off as something less serious like pneumonia.

For those who have been exposed to asbestos, especially those who have worked in trades known for regular use of asbestos or who have lived with someone who has, any of the following signs warrants a medical check-up:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chest pain, painful coughing, chest lumps, or shortness of breath
  • Abdominal pain or swelling, or nausea

Depending on the type of mesothelioma suspected, a doctor may perform a biopsy or order other diagnostic tests such as an MRI or CT scan.

What to do if you have developed mesothelioma

Sadly, mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that usually does not respond well to treatment. For those who experience it, it can be a great comfort to be able to provide for their families in the long term. If you have mesothelioma and suspect it is due to asbestos exposure, speak with a Pittsburgh mesothelioma lawyer to determine whether compensation may be available.

Additional mesothelioma incidence resources:

  1. Medline Plus, Mesothelioma, https://medlineplus.gov/mesothelioma.html
  2. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Federal Bans on Asbestos, https://www.epa.gov/asbestos/us-federal-bans-asbestos