Why Asbestos Cancer Riddles the Senior Community

As our bodies and minds age, there are a number of things we start to seamlessly factor into our daily routines. Writing checklists, bringing a sweater, buying more supportive shoes, having spare glasses and the list goes on. An unexpected illness is something that we are rarely prepared for, and when symptoms present, it’s often too late to take preventative measures. Unfortunately, there are countless health issues to be mindful of, and each has its own levels of needed care. Cancer is one such issue that occurs all too often later in life. There are 17 million men and women globally dealing with cancer, and those numbers have been on a steady rise since 2018. By 2040 there will be an estimated 27.5 million new cases of cancer in the world. Depending on the severity or stage of a cancer diagnosis, prognosis will vary along with new innovations in treatment.

Cancer Developing in Seniors

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that often touches the senior demographic. Between the years 1999 – 2015 more than 10,000 people over the age of 75 were diagnosed in the United States alone. This cancer may develop if someone is exposed to asbestos at any point in their life. Asbestos is a toxic, naturally occurring mineral found in the environment. Decades ago, asbestos was used across the United States in countless applications. Due to its ability to withstand copious amounts of heat and chemicals, asbestos quickly became a common additive in both commercial and consumer products. Around the 1970s, scientists began to discover the dangers of this mineral and it slowly became a less popular additive. Years following, many industries and companies began to face lawsuits from employees for cases of obvious occupational neglect, helping to push asbestos out of mass use. 

Only known to manifest in the body after exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma has a late onset with nearly 10-50 years between initial contact with the substance and the time it takes to be diagnosed. Therefore, people are most commonly diagnosed with this cancer in their later years. Coined as the “old-man disease,” mesothelioma has statistically been seen in men over the age of 65 and especially those who served in the military as being the most disproportionately impacted. 

Who could be at Risk?

Essentially anybody could be at risk for this disease, although some lifestyles do have an increased chance over others. Asbestos was used at such a global scale and for several decades that this mineral made its way into many unexpected items like hairdryers and brake pads. There are a number of occupations that have been linked to a greater risk of asbestos exposure. Construction workers, firefighters, mechanics, and military personnel are just a few to name. Before regulations tightened in the United States, asbestos was used with little to no mindfulness or regard for the safety of human health. Today, many of these laborers and consumers have since retired and never even considered the consequences of the fast boom and industrialization of our nation. Over all, the World Health Organization notes that globally, each year, more than 125 million people are still exposed to some form of asbestos while working. 

Blindsided by Illness

The trouble with mesothelioma is that it’s extremely tricky to spot. Mesothelioma symptoms are often confused with more common respiratory conditions, such as pneumonia or the flu. It isn’t until the cancer progresses into later stages that it’s more obviously discovered. These further stages are notoriously more aggressive. When this happens, both the patient and family are at a loss, feeling blindsided and unprepared. Historically speaking this type of cancer has been slow to treat; however, innovative treatments are progressing every day. In fact, we’re seeing wonderful strides being made in clinical trials, especially with the assistance of artificial intelligence.

Palliative Care

Getting sick in your older years tends to require additional help. Palliative care is a popular option when a patient is living with a serious life altering illness like mesothelioma. Palliative care teams work closely with the patient and family to assist in both emotional and physical health. Teams are available to help patients living at home, in care facilities, or staying long term in the hospital. 

If you’re the patient, it’s important to be open to communicating with your care team, they only want what’s best for you. Writing down your thoughts and wishes during the initial stages of your treatment will allow your care team to make you as happy as possible.

Mesothelioma Awareness Day

September 26 is a distinctive day to recognize the lives that have been impacted by mesothelioma. Whether it’s regarding a patient, a family member, or a medical professional, this day was created to raise awareness for the affected community. This non-genetic disease can be completely prevented, and the goal is to live in a world where asbestos is fully banned, and people are properly educated on the severity of this illness.

A solution is out there, it’s up to everyone to come together and help those who have been made vulnerable to asbestos exposure.