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If you worked with asbestos, know symptoms for mesothelioma

For decades, American workers in a variety of fields experienced dangerous levels of exposure to asbestos. As a naturally-occurring mineral compound, asbestos was a cost-effective solution to a host of manufacturing and product issues, until it became clear what a risk this compound posed. By the time the government actively started intervening, thousands of Americans had been exposed to dangerous and potentially fatal levels of the substance.

Even though there was medical documentation of health issues linked to asbestos available at the beginning of the 20th century, many companies still chose to use asbestos for a variety of purposes, endangering their workers. It often takes many years, even decades, for mesothelioma to develop after being exposed. While there is no cure for this aggressive form of cancer, early diagnosis and intervention can increase life expectancy and quality of life for those dealing with mesothelioma.

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive and fatal form of cancer that affects the lining of the organs, often the lungs. Although treatments can delay its spread and help with symptoms, there is currently no cure. Those diagnosed with this cancer will eventually die from it.

While there could be other causes or factors in play, the primary cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. When workers breathe in the fiber, they scar and inflame the tissue of the lungs and airways. Over time, this likely causes damage to the DNA of the cells, resulting in uncontrolled cellular growth, which is what cancer is.

What are the most common symptoms of mesothelioma?

For those with mesothelioma in the chest or lungs, the most common symptoms are:

  • Pain in the chest or lower back
  • Swelling in the face or arms
  • Shorter breaths
  • A hoarse voice
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble swallowing

For those with mesothelioma of the abdomen, symptoms include weight loss, swelling of the abdomen, pain around the stomach, nausea or vomiting, and constipation.

Because it is a rare cancer and the symptoms are often potentially linked to other conditions, it may take some time for doctors to diagnose. They will first rule out other, more common causes of symptoms. That can delay receiving treatment that could extend your life and reduce the severity of your symptoms.

If you know your work exposed you to asbestos, be sure to advise your doctor of this fact. While there are no early detection tests for this cancer, doctors can take steps to confirm it or rule it out. They may perform a blood test checking for osteopontin and soluble mesothelin-related peptides or perform imaging tests earlier in the diagnostic process if they know you have an increased risk for this cancer.