Mesothelioma, a Rare Cancer Stemming From Asbestos Exposure


Before the dangers of asbestos became public knowledge, numerous asbestos products were used on U.S. Navy ships from the 1930s to the beginning of the 1980s. Because asbestos was cheap and had outstanding fireproof and chemical-resistant proprieties, the Navy mandated it on its vessels, putting veterans at high risk of asbestos-related diseases.

As specific military occupations required veterans to work closely with products containing asbestos, exposure to the toxic substance was inevitable. Moreover, the lack of protective equipment while handling this dangerous material increased the danger of exposure. Many veterans remember the white dust covering their bunks or lingering in the air of their working stations. Diseases related to asbestos exposure can take decades to develop, so veterans of the Navy who were exposed decades ago remain at risk of developing severe asbestos-related illnesses nowadays. One of them is mesothelioma, a rare and very aggressive cancer that occurs in the tissue of the lining around:

  • lungs (pleural mesothelioma)
  • abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma)
  • heart (pericardial mesothelioma)
  • testicles (testicular mesothelioma)

Besides having a long latency period of 20-60 years, this unforgiving illness is asymptomatic in the early phases. Hence, people with a history of asbestos exposure need to keep a close eye on their health.

Asbestos Exposure, the Primary Cause of Mesothelioma

As a result of heavy asbestos usage, approx. 33% of all mesothelioma cases have been associated with the U.S. Navy or shipyards. While some jobs on the ships put veterans at a higher risk of asbestos exposure, all personnel in all Navy ratings may have been exposed to asbestos, as it was present throughout naval vessels and shipyards. This is why Navy veterans are more likely to develop mesothelioma in comparison to the general population.

More than that, the risk of developing mesothelioma later in life exists for anyone exposed to asbestos, either directly or secondhand. Secondhand asbestos exposure is a lurking danger to family members of shipyard workers, as well as to those of the Navy veterans who fulfilled duty while their ship was overhauled or repaired in shipyards. They, too, may develop mesothelioma in a process that slowly advances over the years:

  • exposure - when asbestos is disturbed, its microscopic fibers become airborne and may be inhaled or ingested. Family members are usually exposed through asbestos fibers carried home on clothing, luggage, or even the hair and skin of the person working in a contaminated environment.
  • buildup - once in the body, the tiny fibers become lodged in the protective linings of organs and accumulate with repeated exposure.
  • damage - the barb-like asbestos fibers irritate healthy tissue and cause inflammation.
  • cancer - over time, the constant irritation leads to scarring, causing cancerous tumors to form.

Companies manufacturing asbestos products hid the link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma for decades to keep making profits. Millions of military personnel and civilian workers and their families were exposed to this carcinogenic material without knowing of the health risks. Even though asbestos stopped being used on naval vessels, older veterans who served on ships built before the 1980s are at the most risk for developing mesothelioma. Given that asbestos wasn't completely removed or encapsulated on existing vessels and facilities until the late 1990s, younger veterans are also at risk for developing mesothelioma in the future.

Early Detection and Treatment Are Decisive Factors

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer and, more often than not, is detected only late, when it evolved to a stage where following a treatment is impossible for most people. Like with all asbestos diseases, the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma may resemble those of other common, less dangerous illnesses and can mislead the doctors into a wrong diagnosis. It is why, by the time a correct diagnosis is possible, the cancer has reached such an advanced stage that removing it through an operation isn't possible. In cases like this, doctors are left with the only option to work on controlling the disease to make the patient more comfortable. Although mesothelioma is categorized into four types based on tumor location, the following two types are the most common:

Pleural mesothelioma forms in the lungs, which results in symptoms resembling a severe cold or pneumonia, including:

  • shortness of breath
  • persistent cough
  • fatigue
  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • generalized fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss
  • night sweats
  • fever
  • fluid buildup in or around the lungs (pleural effusions)

Peritoneal mesothelioma forms in the abdomen, which means it manifests through symptoms similar to gastritis or irritable bowel conditions, including:

  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • unexplained weight loss
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation or other bowel issues
  • fatigue
  • digestion problems
  • fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity (ascites)

Each mesothelioma case is uniquely complex; therefore, it may be advisable for veterans to seek care from a mesothelioma specialist, as they have expertise in diagnosing and treating this type of cancer. The diagnostic process includes tests such as:

  • chest X-ray
  • CT scan
  • PET scan
  • MRI
  • removing fluid for testing
  • endoscopy
  • biopsy
  • pulmonary function tests
  • complete blood count (CBC)
  • blood chemistry tests

Navy veterans with known military asbestos exposure should make an appointment with their doctor and request screening for asbestos-related diseases regularly, including mesothelioma. Time is of the essence, so promptly acting when experiencing the first signs may considerably prolong their life expectancy.

The Navy established the Asbestos Medical Surveillance Program in the 1970s to monitor the health of veterans and civilians exposed to asbestos while working for the Navy and other military branches. The program helps follow the medical status of individuals with known military occupational asbestos exposure and makes screening for mesothelioma and asbestosis available for those exposed. Additionally, it documents service-related asbestos exposure - a necessity for filing claims.

An Asbestos-Related Cancer Makes Veterans Eligible for Compensation

Veterans of the Navy diagnosed with mesothelioma and who have a documented history of military asbestos exposure may qualify for VA benefits with a 100% disability rating. The VA can also provide screening and treatment for veterans who meet these eligibility requirements. It's essential to notice that even if you have mesothelioma that isn't related to your military service, you may still qualify for mesothelioma treatment at a VA hospital.

Aside from mesothelioma, veterans of the Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, U.S. Army Transport Service, or Merchant Marine are eligible for compensation from asbestos trust funds and the VA if they have proof of asbestos exposure and are diagnosed with the following asbestos-related cancers:

If your medical documents state any of these malignant diseases and you wish to take legal action, a specialized attorney can guide you through filing a claim and ensure the success of your case. We can help by putting you in touch with legal experts who are ready to assist you in getting the lawful compensation you deserve.

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