The U.S. Navy's use of asbestos throughout the past century caused irreversible health damage to thousands of veterans. Asbestos was deemed a critical insulator in shipbuilding and was heavily applied in ships built before the 1980s.
This unique mineral has flexible fibers that can separate and become airborne when damaged or disturbed, putting all personnel onboard at a high risk of inhaling or ingesting the toxic particles. Airborne asbestos fibers are at the root of asbestos-related diseases many Navy veterans suffer from decades after their service.
Asbestos causes acute inflammation that leads to cell damage over many years. The tiny asbestos particles get stuck within the tissue around major organs, causing irritation, inflammation, and scarring; as they damage DNA, genetic mutations occur and facilitate abnormal cell growth. Veterans diagnosed with asbestos-related cancers are entitled to claims and may be eligible for compensation if their medical records state conditions like:
- pharyngeal cancer
- laryngeal cancer
- bronchial cancer
- lung cancer
- esophageal cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
- colorectal cancer
- urogenital cancer
Throat cancer is one of the cancers caused by asbestos exposure and, therefore, can be correlated with a veteran's military service. In 2006, the Institute of Medicine panel linked throat cancer with exposure to the toxic mineral, concluding a causal relationship between asbestos exposure and throat cancer.
Before arriving in the lungs, the inhaled microscopic fibers pass through the throat and penetrate the tissues thanks to their barb-like ends. They get embedded in the lining, causing severe inflammation, which can lead to cancer. Throat cancer is a general term describing the malignant formations in the throat, but the disease is differentiated by the part of the throat where it originated:
- Laryngeal cancer - develops on the larynx, the hollow tube allowing air to pass from the throat to the lungs
- Pharyngeal cancer - develops in the esophagus, the muscular tube through which food passes and reaches the stomach.
The National Cancer Institute finds that the risk of developing laryngeal cancer from asbestos exposure is dose-dependent: they increase with the amount of asbestos a person breathes in. Studies show that people exposed to asbestos face a 40% higher risk of developing laryngeal cancer than those without exposure.
Statistics indicate that individuals heavily exposed to asbestos have a 157% greater risk of laryngeal cancer. Pharyngeal cancer is grouped with oral cavity cancer statistically, and the numbers show about 54,000 new cases diagnosed in the U.S. in 2022. Throat cancer can be service-connected directly or as a secondary condition and is also considered presumptive under certain circumstances. It is essential to note that smokers with a history of asbestos exposure and a throat cancer diagnosis may also be entitled to compensation.
Prolonged Asbestos Exposure Is Typically the Culprit Behind Veteran's Throat Cancer
Aside from viral infections, reflux disease, and lifestyle-based risk factors like tobacco use, exposure to microscopic asbestos fibers over an extended period expedites the development of throat cancer. Like all asbestos-related diseases, it can be asymptomatic for many years after exposure. The long latency usually leads to throat cancer going undetected until advanced stages. It's essential to pay attention to new, persisting signs and symptoms and make an appointment with the doctor when experiencing:
- a persistent dry cough
- a sore throat that does not go away
- pain or swelling in the abdomen
- hoarseness or not speaking clearly
- difficulty swallowing
- ear pain
- hearing changes or tinnitus
- a painless lump in the neck
- nasal congestion or bleeding
- facial pain
- sudden weight loss
The symptoms detailed above are specific to both laryngeal and pharyngeal cancer, but because they resemble more common illnesses, doctors will likely investigate other respiratory conditions first. The telltale sign that throat cancer is the consequence of the veteran's asbestos exposure is the presence of asbestos fibers along the lining of the larynx or esophagus. Being vocal about your time in the Navy and openly speaking about asbestos exposure helps the diagnostic process. It gains valuable time for establishing the right therapy and maximizes your chances of restoring your health. To diagnose throat cancer, doctors may recommend diagnostic procedures like:
- imaging tests
Undergoing different tests is vital to avoid misdiagnosis, as throat cancer may often be misdiagnosed as allergies, common cold, and sinus infections.
Symptoms of Asbestos-Related Diseases Often Indicate Regular Illnesses
Health conditions stemming from asbestos exposure are difficult to identify due to their complexity. Because their symptoms often mimic those of less life-threatening illnesses, doctors may easily misread and misdiagnose them for common respiratory conditions. We encourage asking for a second or a third doctor's opinion outside the VA to ensure receiving an exact diagnosis. It can add years to life when no time is wasted on beginning a therapy based on a wrong diagnosis.
Tell your doctor about the military service to help identify your condition efficiently and narrow the diagnostic possibilities. Mentioning the high possibility of asbestos exposure during service could reveal non-cancerous asbestos diseases like:
- rounded atelectasis
- pleural plaques
- pleural effusion
- pleural thickening
- pulmonary fibrosis
- lung nodules and spots
- chronic bronchitis
Although these diseases don't qualify a veteran for compensation, they tend to become cancer and should be checked regularly. Periodic chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests could uncover them becoming cancerous, and a precise cancer diagnosis will make a veteran eligible for claims.
Helping Veterans to Maximize Their Chances of Having a Successful Claim
Veterans suffering from life-threatening conditions like throat cancer often have to bear the costs of immediate treatment and regular illness monitoring, putting a strain on the family's finances. If you served in the Navy and have been diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer, you may receive VA disability benefits to cover your costs if there's proof of service connection.
Proving that there is a connection between your disease and the years you've spent serving in the military can be difficult. Still, an experienced lawyer specializing in asbestos claims can help maximize your chances of success. We offer assistance by connecting you with expert attorneys ready to assist with your case.