Esophageal Cancer, a Severe Effect of Long-Term Asbestos Exposure

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Asbestos has been classified as a carcinogen since the 1970s, but the industry hasn't heeded medical science's warnings. The advantages of using asbestos in whichever possible way outweighed health concerns, and nobody paid attention to protective measures while handling the toxic mineral.

With WW2 putting pressure on every Armed Forces branch, the military industry welcomed asbestos's versatility and low price range, as producing equipment quickly and in large amounts became a top priority. Asbestos-containing products flooded many military properties, including ships built for the Navy. As a consequence, Navy personnel faced a high risk of asbestos exposure onboard naval vessels built before the 1980s, and thousands of Navy veterans developed asbestos-related diseases many years after their service.

Exposure to asbestos poses the risk of developing benign or malignant illnesses stemming from having inhaled or ingested airborne asbestos fibers even decades ago. The long latency period makes these conditions life-altering, as, by the time of their discovery, they have usually reached advanced stages in most cases. When asbestos fibers enter the body through inhalation or swallowing, they can get lodged in the lining of various organs, irritating and injuring them until tumors develop and eventually turn into asbestos-related cancer, such as:

Asbestos Fibers May Cause Cancer in the Esophagus

Asbestos exposure has been constantly associated with varied cancers, depending on where the fibers get stuck. Although the lungs are primarily affected when the fibers are inhaled, upon ingestion, the tiny sharp threads can get attached to the esophagus, the long fibromuscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. Over time, cancerous tumors may grow in the cells lining the inside of the esophagus.

Esophageal cancer (EC) is the sixth primary cause of cancer death worldwide and the seventh most recurrent cause of death due to cancer among men, according to statistics. Even though not all EC occurs due to asbestos exposure, studies on occupational or environmental factors have shown a causal link between the toxic mineral and this cancer type. Medical debate in the last 20-30 years demonstrated that asbestos exposure may increase the risk of esophageal cancer by 40%. Because the esophagus is lined by gland cells or squamous cells, doctors use the cell type to diagnose esophageal cancer, differentiating it into these two types:

  • Adenocarcinoma - is the most common type of EC, developing in the mucus-forming gland cells of the esophageal lining, usually in the lower part of the esophagus. Besides asbestos exposure, obesity and persistent acid reflux are among the risk factors.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma - progresses in the lining of the upper and middle areas of the esophagus. Other than asbestos exposure, risk factors include heavy tobacco and alcohol use.

Moreover, esophageal cancer has less common types, making up about 1% of cases:

  • Small cell carcinoma - forms in neuroendocrine cells of the esophagus.
  • Sarcoma - can grow in soft tissues anywhere in the body, and in rare instances, it also grows in the esophagus.
  • Melanoma - occurs in the melanin cells of the esophageal mucus.

Often, symptoms of EC won't appear until advanced stages of the disease. Additionally, they strongly resemble other usual diseases, further complicating things. Experiencing these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean that you have cancer, but EC can manifest signs such as:

  • continuous hoarseness, coughing, or wheezing
  • chronic chest pain, pressure, or burning sensations
  • excessive heartburn and indigestion
  • random considerable weight loss
  • trouble swallowing

EC's standard diagnostic procedure is a gastroscopy followed by a biopsy, but doctors usually give multiple tests to rule out all possibilities. The treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer, as incipient stages allow for more curative treatment options than the later stages of the disease. Treatment plans typically include:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation treatment
  • immunotherapy
  • surgery
  • targeted treatments

Those who developed EC as a result of occupational asbestos exposure, whether in an industrial setting or the military, qualify immediately for filing claims and expedited case processing. Victims of secondary asbestos exposure diagnosed with EC can also apply for compensation for their pain and suffering.

Asbestos Conditions Are Often Mistaken for Common Illnesses

Diseases developed due to inhaling or ingesting toxic asbestos fibers are complex, involving metabolic and immune processes that damage the DNA in the internal organs. They often give misleading symptoms that make an exact diagnosis difficult. Most doctors misread the symptoms and conclude wrong diagnoses based on symptoms that resemble common respiratory conditions.

Precious time is wasted when veterans receive an incorrect diagnosis and follow treatments unfit for asbestos diseases. To prevent such situations, former service members should request a second or third doctor's opinion outside the VA. Being open about your time in the military considerably reduces the diagnostic possibilities, and mentioning the chance of asbestos exposure during service could help in discovering non-cancerous diseases like:

Even though these illnesses don't qualify a veteran for compensation, they should be monitored because they tend to develop into cancer. Pulmonary function tests and periodic chest X-rays may detect early stages of malignant illnesses, and a cancer diagnosis entitles veterans to file claims.

We Offer Assistance to Navy Veterans and Their Families

Former Navy personnel who served on ships built before the 1980s and developed a service-related malignant disease have the right to seek compensation from the asbestos trust funds and the VA and may be financially rewarded for pain and suffering if they can show proof of asbestos exposure.

Filing a claim is bound to a statute of limitations, so it's advisable to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after you've received your diagnosis. By acting promptly, you can ensure your claims are submitted on time, and you won't have to face denial of payment. If you are uncertain whether or what type of indemnification you qualify for, we can help you learn more about your benefits. Should you decide on legal steps, we can put you in touch with expert attorneys who will help with the necessary documentation and represent you through the process.

If you have a cancer diagnosis please contact us

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