Why Mesothelioma Cancer Occurs in Today’s Seniors

August 30th, 2012 No Comments

Mesothelioma is a cancer that most commonly affects seniors. Some younger patients have developed the disease, but the vast majority of patients are between 50 and 70 years of age.

Seniors almost always develop the disease as a result of asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers were present in many different materials, and the carcinogenic material was not regulated until the 1970s. By that time, however, many people had already inhaled or ingested the mineral.

Once the fibers are inside the body, they are able to get trapped inside the lining of the lungs.  They can then cause genetic and tissue damage that goes undetected for up to 50 years. Since asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma often take several decades to arise, people who encountered the fibers during its height of popularity may just now be developing mesothelioma.

How Seniors Might Have Encountered Asbestos

Modern-day seniors most commonly encountered asbestos as younger professionals working in industrial jobsites. Shipyards, construction sites, refineries and factories were all laden with asbestos. Males made up the majority of the workforce in these industries. As a result of this gender difference, males are four times more likely to develop mesothelioma than women.

Even though occupational asbestos exposure affected more men than women, secondhand exposure was a greater risk for women. When an industrial worker wore their work clothing home, they inadvertently risked bringing asbestos fibers into the house. Women often inhaled asbestos while washing asbestos-contaminated laundry. Women also may have encountered asbestos in certain household products, such as talc or hairdryers.

Men and women who served in the military (especially in World War II or the Vietnam War) also have an elevated risk of past asbestos exposure. The government did not phase out their use of asbestos products until the late 1970s, and armed service members often encountered the fibers on military ships, aircraft and bases.

What Asbestos-Exposed Seniors Can Do

While seniors cannot undo asbestos exposure, they can talk with their doctor about their mesothelioma risk. If they have a known history of exposure, seniors can also arrange asbestos-related disease screenings. They should not wait until they notice symptoms such as chest pain or difficulty breathing; by the time these symptoms arise, an asbestos-related disease has often advanced to a later stage. Regular mesothelioma screenings can help high-risk seniors detect the disease early in its progression.

Guest Author bio: Faith Franz researches and writes about health-related issues for The Mesothelioma Center. One of her focuses is living with cancer.

Sources: National Cancer Institute: Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk. (1 May 2009). Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/asbestos

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