Individuals have known for centuries that asbestos causes harm to the lungs of individuals who work with the mineral. As far back as during the time of the Holy Roman Empire, it was noted that slaves who worked in the asbestos mines were suffering from respiratory trauma and were often dying at a very young age. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the medical community began to readily accept the fact that exposure to asbestos could lead to the cancer known as mesothelioma. Indeed, exposure to asbestos is the leading cause of the disease, with few other causes being identified or confirmed.
Experts have maintained that even a small amount of exposure to asbestos can cause malignant mesothelioma. Technically, the disease occurs when sharp asbestos fibers enter the body and become lodged in the area around the lungs, abdomen, or heart. These tiny fibers, once inhaled, cannot be expelled and may eventually cause scarring and irritation in the affected areas. For some individuals, scarring is the end of the road, but in many cases, cancerous tumors develop, resulting in a diagnosis of mesothelioma. Specifically, cancer develops when the fibers enter cells and disrupt normal cell division. In addition, membranes thicken and fluid builds up in the empty spaces between the membrane layers, causing uncomfortable and often debilitating symptoms.
Because asbestos exposure is the major cause of mesothelioma, individuals who worked with the toxic mineral on a regular basis are those most prone to developing the disease. Because asbestos was used through more than three-quarters of the twentieth century, a number of tradespeople were exposed on a daily basis. Those who worked with the hazardous mineral regularly include:
Because the risk to these individuals is so high, anyone who worked with asbestos should be periodically tested for lung function or receive a chest x-ray on a regular basis. In addition, these individuals should also inform their doctor as to their prior exposure to asbestos, even if it occurred many years ago. Mesothelioma can remain dormant for decades, surfacing as much as 50 years after exposure.
Though most experts agree that asbestos accounts for the vast majority of mesothelioma cases diagnosed each year, there have been a few cases of the cancer that can be traced to other causes. These include:
Much has been discussed concerning smoking and mesothelioma. Researchers definitively agree that smoking does not cause mesothelioma but it does negatively affect those who have asbestosis. In fact, asbestosis victims who are smokers have a much higher chance of developing mesothelioma than asbestosis patients who do not smoke.