The U.S. Military was one of the most significant users of asbestos, unknowingly paving the way for veterans to develop severe diseases decades after service due to exposure to the toxic mineral.
Among the illnesses former and even current service members risk is gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, the fifth most common and fourth deadliest malignancy worldwide. Because asbestos exposure also occurs through ingestion, the asbestos fibers may accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract. This toxic saturation can lead to the development of malignant tumors within 20 to 50 years of the first exposure to this hazardous material.
Furthermore, inhaling asbestos fibers can result in GI cancer as well since the microscopic fibers can easily travel through the bloodstream and the lymphatic system and eventually embed in the gastrointestinal tract. Depending on where in the body the tiny asbestos particles will lodge, other asbestos-related cancers may develop:
- esophageal cancer
- urogenital cancer
- bronchial cancer
- lung cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
- pharyngeal cancer
- colorectal cancer
- laryngeal cancer
Asbestos Fibers May Cause Cancer in the Digestive System
Asbestos exposure has been consistently linked with cancers in numerous studies over the years, among them those of gastrointestinal (GI) tract tumors. Even though the relationship between asbestos and various types of cancer has historically been vague, research shows a causal relationship between the dangerous mineral and gastrointestinal cancer.
Recently, a multidisciplinary committee assigned by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences reviewed the evidence for causal associations and found sufficient evidence for cancer. As for environmental toxic exposure, asbestos-related stomach cancer following occupational exposure is the best validated to date. Despite the incidence of stomach cancer registering a significant decline, it remains the second most common fatal cancer worldwide. According to health statistics, an estimated 22,280 new cases and 11,430 deaths occur yearly in the United States due to this type of cancer.
Given that gastrointestinal cancer is the general term for a group of cancers that grow within the digestive system or intestinal tract, there are specific categories distinguished based on the affected organs:
- bile duct cancer
- colon cancer
- esophageal cancer
- gallbladder cancer
- gastrointestinal stromal tumors
- liver cancer
- pancreatic cancer
- rectal cancer
- small intestine cancer
- stomach (gastric) cancer
Symptoms of GI cancer may not be noticeable until the disease is at a later stage. It further complicates things that signs of this illness can also be easily mistaken for other common stomach issues. GI cancer usually causes:
- chronic vomiting
- recurring extreme indigestion
- extensive stomach pain
- feeling bloated or full even after small portions
- persistent nausea
- severe, chronic heartburn
- unintended weight loss
Gastrointestinal cancer risk factors differ for every cancer type that the general term includes, and only some are within a person's control. Your health, age, lifestyle, and genes can affect your cancer risk in numerous ways. However, it doesn't mean you'll necessarily develop cancer when having one or more risk factors, such as:
- environmental and occupational exposures - individuals exposed to asbestos over a long period are significantly likely to develop GI cancer due to ingesting or inhaling the toxic fibers.
- age - GI cancer typically develops after age 50.
- gender - research results show that men are more likely than women to develop GI cancer.
- lifestyle - everyday choices like diet, exercise, weight control, tobacco, and alcohol consumption can make a big difference in developing GI cancer.
- medical conditions - certain diseases like Barrett's esophagus (regular acid reflux), colon polyps, HPV, or hepatitis C increase the chances of developing GI cancer.
- hereditary cancer syndromes - a small percentage of GI cancers are caused by genetic factors like Lynch syndrome, predisposition to polyps, or hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC) syndrome that are passed down through families.
According to data from the National Cancer Institute, some cases of GI cancers have no symptoms in the incipient phases. It is a similar characteristic to asbestos-connected diseases and can delay a patient from visiting the doctor, decreasing the chances of an early diagnosis. Just like with all asbestos illnesses, an early diagnosis of GI cancer is crucial for establishing the best-suited treatment and prolonging life expectancy. Conversely, a late-stage diagnosis yields limited treatment options, negatively affecting the patient's prognosis.
Gastrointestinal cancer treatments also vary based on where the cancer is located, the size of the tumor, and the general condition of the patient, along with other individual factors. Diagnostic tools that offer relevant information about GI cancer's presence or stage include:
- imaging tests
- blood tests (tumor markers)
Illnesses Stemming From Asbestos Exposure Are Often Misdiagnosed as Common Diseases
Health conditions developed due to inhaling or ingesting toxic asbestos particles are complex, and their complicated nature is the cause for most doctors misreading the symptoms and establishing misleading diagnoses. The tiny asbestos fibers harm the body only after decades; therefore, asbestos-related illnesses are often discovered in advanced stages. Moreover, their symptoms resemble typical respiratory conditions, complicating their correct evaluation even more.
Precious time is wasted when veterans are misdiagnosed and follow incorrect treatments because of it. To prevent such situations, former service members should ask for a second or third doctor's opinion outside the VA. Speaking about your time in the military will considerably reduce the diagnostic possibilities, and being open about the possibility of asbestos exposure during service could help in discovering non-cancerous asbestos diseases like:
- pleural effusion
- pleural thickening
- pulmonary fibrosis
- lung nodules and spots
- chronic bronchitis
- rounded atelectasis
- pleural plaques
Although these illnesses don't qualify a veteran for compensation, they should be periodically checked because they tend to develop into cancer. Regular chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests may detect these conditions at the beginning of becoming cancerous, and a cancer diagnosis entitles veterans to file claims.
We Offer Support for Navy Veterans and Their Families
Former service members who served on ships built before the 1980s and developed a malignant disease due to their service have the right to seek indemnification to cover the significant costs of medical treatments and hospitalization and may receive compensation for pain and suffering.
Legal claims are bound to a statute of limitations, so you should contact an attorney as soon as possible following your diagnosis. Proceeding this way, you can ensure your claims get filed on time, and you won't have to deal with denied claims after the expired regulated time.
If you are a Navy veteran diagnosed with cancer due to asbestos exposure but are unsure whether or what type of compensation you are eligible for, we can help you learn more about the benefits available to you. Should you decide to take legal action, we can put you in contact with expert lawyers who will help you put the necessary documentation together and represent you through the process.