Longtime Asbestos Exposure, a Colorectal Cancer Risk Factor

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For much of the 20th century, asbestos was commonly used by the military, especially in the Navy. As WWII demanded more ships, the need for an abundant and low-price insulating material appeared, and asbestos met the criteria. Consequently, all ships constructed before the 80s were built with asbestos products.

Many companies and manufacturers knew that asbestos is toxic but hid the health risk for decades, knowingly placing millions of workers and sailors at risk of asbestos exposure. Service members may have come in contact with asbestos directly while doing their job on the ship, or they may have been exposed to asbestos in barracks, base administrative offices on land, and through sleeping quarters, mess halls, and recreational areas on the vessels.

It wasn't until the early 80s that the asbestos hazard became widely known, and the knowledge that asbestos exposure could cause severe health problems came forth. By that time, the damage had already been done - thousands of Navy personnel had already been exposed to the dangerous mineral and developed malignant conditions like:

Veterans and former shipyard workers diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer qualify for compensation through asbestos trust funds; they may file VA claims as well if their medical documents state the life-threatening illness.

Exposure to Asbestos Linked to Colorectal Cancer

Asbestos fibers are microscopic, small enough to be inhaled or ingested. Once they enter the body, the immune system can't clear them. Thus, asbestos fibers remain in the body for decades, causing inflammation and scarring. Eventually, these processes will lead to the development of cancer.

The connection between colorectal cancer and asbestos exposure hasn't been fully clarified yet, and medical research is mixed. Some studies conclude in a definitive cause and effect culminating in higher colorectal cancer rates among people who worked with asbestos. A recent study investigating the link between asbestos fibers and colorectal cancer found that people with a history of occupational or military asbestos exposure have a 14% higher than average risk of developing colorectal cancer. According to statistics, there were over 10,000 new occurrences of colon cancer in the U.S. in 2022. Risk factors other than asbestos fibers include:

  • smoking
  • heavy alcohol use
  • type II diabetes
  • obesity
  • lack of physical activity
  • certain diets
  • colorectal polyps
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • a family history of colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer was also linked to exposure to PFAS, toxic chemicals contaminating more than 700 U.S. military bases. Regular or prolonged exposure to PFAS is associated with an accentuated risk of developing various cancers. Therefore, everyone stationed on a U.S. military base is inevitably exposed and has an increased risk of developing this type of cancer. Service members or their families living with them at an army camp become eligible for compensation if diagnosed with this malignant disease.

Regular Asbestos Exposure May Be the Culprit for Developing Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal or colon cancer is a life-altering disease involving abnormal cell growth in the large intestine. Atypical formations like polyps, for example, can be present in the intestine for years without growing and become cancerous over time.

When it comes to asbestos exposure, it's the ingested asbestos fibers that usually lead to the development of colorectal cancer. Still, the condition also occurs with inhaled asbestos fibers traveling from the lungs to this part of the digestive system through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. When asbestos fibers reach the colorectal area, they embed themselves in the tissue, gradually causing chronic inflammation and scarring, facilitating the growth of malignant tumors.

Besides lung and liver cancer, colon or rectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer globally. Like with all cancers, it is best to be diagnosed in its incipient phases; generally, the disease produces symptoms like:

  • change in frequency of bowel movements
  • constipation
  • loose or watery stools
  • blood in stools
  • rectal bleeding
  • abdominal pain, cramping, or bloating
  • constant fatigue or weakness
  • a persistent feeling of not emptying the bowels
  • unintentional weight loss

It's essential to seek medical attention as soon as possible, as colorectal cancer can seem a lot like other common gastrointestinal disorders, including:

  • hemorrhoids
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • a simple infection
  • Crohn's disease
  • ulcerative colitis

Going to the doctor immediately can add years to life, as colorectal cancer quickly metastasizes. The diagnostic process typically involves imagistic investigations and biological sample tests done by a specialist:

  • colonoscopy
  • sigmoidoscopy
  • CT scan
  • blood test
  • MRI
  • biopsy
  • stool tests

Mentioning your service in the military can facilitate the evaluation and speed up the correct assessment, reducing the possibility of misdiagnosis and helping to establish the best treatment in time.

Asbestos-Related Illnesses Are Often Misdiagnosed as Common Diseases

Health conditions stemming from asbestos exposure are complicated, and their complex nature causes most doctors to misread the symptoms and establish misleading outcomes. The inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers cause harm only after decades and are often discovered in advanced stages. Moreover, signs of asbestos-related diseases resemble those of typical respiratory conditions. It further complicates their exact evaluation.

Precious time is wasted when veterans are misdiagnosed and receive incorrect treatment. To prevent such scenarios, former service members should ask for a second or third doctor's opinion outside the VA. Speaking to your doctor about your time in the military will considerably narrow the diagnostic possibilities, and being vocal about the chance of asbestos exposure during service could help in diagnosing non-cancerous asbestos diseases like:

Although these diseases don't qualify a veteran for compensation, they should be periodically monitored because they tend to develop into cancer. Chest X-rays and regular pulmonary function tests may detect benign asbestos-related illnesses becoming cancerous in their early stages, and a cancer diagnosis entitles veterans to file claims.

We Offer Assistance to Navy Veterans and Their Families

Asbestos victims who served on ships built before the 80s, and developed a malignant disease due to their service, have the right to seek compensation to cover the substantial costs of medical treatments and hospitalization and may obtain remuneration for pain and suffering.

Legal claims have a statute of limitations, so you should consider contacting an attorney as soon as possible following your diagnosis. This way, you can be sure your claims get filed on time, and you won't face the disappointment of filing for claims after the regulated time has expired.

If you are a Navy veteran diagnosed with cancer due to asbestos exposure but are unsure whether or what type of compensation you qualify for, we can help you learn more about the benefits you are eligible for. Should you decide to take legal steps, we can put you in contact with expert attorneys who will help you gather the necessary documentation and then represent you through the process.

If you have a cancer diagnosis please contact us

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