By: Emily Liptak

On September 26th each year, Mesothelioma Awareness Day is recognized as a time to educate the public on this rare form of cancer as well as to show support for those impacted by the disease.

What is Mesothelioma?

If you haven’t heard of mesothelioma, you’re not alone. This form of cancer is rare, but if an individual is diagnosed the prognosis is often poor. Due to its rarity as well as aggressive nature, mesothelioma is a difficult cancer to treat. Mesothelioma can be found in the lining of the heart, stomach, and lungs. This cancer is caused by asbestos exposure, in which inhaled asbestos fibers trigger an inflammatory response and fibrotic scarring which may increase DNA damage in tissues, particularly those which contain mesothelial cells. This DNA damage can interrupt the cells ability to regulate its own growth, allowing for uncontrolled growth around the body. Essentially, tumors may begin to form.

This disease is known for its latency period typically spanning anywhere between 20-50 years after initial exposure, which makes it difficult to pinpoint when an individual was first exposed. Nearly 3,000 new people are diagnosed with mesothelioma annually with the most common form being pleural mesothelioma, which develops in the lining of the lungs. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for this illness, although researchers have been working to find new methods of treatment, as well as establishing clinical trials.

Asbestos Awareness

While the importance of mesothelioma awareness is vital, understanding what asbestos is, why it is dangerous, and where it can be found is also an important step in preventative education.

Contractors spackling a ceiling.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is found naturally in rocks and soil. Due to its durability and heat resistance properties it was a popular material utilized in a number of materials such as:

  • Building products (insulation, roofing, flooring, cement)
  • Automotive parts (brake pads, brake linings, transmission pads)
  • Electrical materials (heating ducts, wiring insulation, boilers, furnaces)
  • Consumer products ( baby powder, hair dryers, potting soil, crockpots, fume hoods)

Asbestos is still not banned in nearly 70% of the world, and many people can be exposed while on the job or while in their home. This mineral isn’t dangerous to our health while lying dormant, but once it is distrubed it immediately becomes toxic to those in its vicinity. Asbestos was used in building construction until the 1970’s, so although it is not currently used in new buildings, it is still hazardous when living in an older home, or working in an older building. Unfortunately, many people are unaware their home contains asbestos and unknowingly disturb these fibers when tackling DIY home projects. Because of this, it’s important to understand this toxicant, where it comes from, and the proper safety precautions to take.

To be safe, the first step when beginning a home project is finding out when your home was built to see if asbestos was used in any area. The next step in the process is to hire a professional to remove and replace contaminated products or materials. Do not try to take on the removal process on your own, as you may not use the proper tools and safety equipment, and may not know how to dispose of it properly.

Ways to Show Your Advocacy and Support

There are a number of ways to show support and care for those impacted by this illness. If you’re hoping to make a change in the asbestos field, it’s important to support those that are advocating for a ban on this toxicant. Disaster preparedness can also help protect you and those around you from exposure. When a disaster strikes, it is easy to be overwhelmed with what may have been lost and the work that needs to be done. Luckily, there are resources that can guide you through what to do if your health becomes threatened by disturbed asbestos. A simple way to show support is by donating to a related nonprofit. Donating to a cause, such as the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, will support in efforts towards advocating for a ban, as well as funding research for better treatment options and creating programs for patients and their families.

Knowledge is power, and in the case of asbestos and mesothelioma, this saying couldn’t be truer. Mesothelioma is not a genetic cancer, which means it is fully preventable if the proper precautions are being taken, and general awareness and information of this threat to human health are shared. Take the extra time inspecting a home or reading the ingredients on a product. The safety of yourself and those around you may depend on it.

Récha Bullock Founded in 2007, the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center brings attention to the dangers of asbestos and the deadly form of cancer it causes: mesothelioma. An independent group working to help mesothelioma patients, caregivers, advocates and others looking to learn more about the disease.