What to Do if You’ve Been Exposed to Asbestos

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There’s nothing more terrifying than knowing your health is at risk and fearing that at some point, you’ll get a call from the doctor that will turn your life upside down.

Case in point: Angelina Jolie’s recent double mastectomy. When she found out her genetics gave her an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer, she scheduled a regimen of three consecutive surgeries to have the tissues removed. That bold, pre-emptive strike dropped her risk down to just 5 percent.

Unfortunately, there’s no surgery that can slash your mesothelioma risk after asbestos exposure. But that’s not to say that you can’t take several proactive steps to protect your future health – and rest a bit easier at night.

While there’s no way to prevent an asbestos-related illness from developing (aside from preventing exposure in the first place), these proactive steps can certainly help protect your health. In the event that you were to become ill, you’d be setting yourself up for an early diagnosis – and potentially improving your chances of beating an asbestos-related disease.

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If You've Been Exposed to Asbestos but Do Not Have Symptoms

  • Schedule regular check-ups with your primary care physician.
  • Every year (or every other year), talk to your physician about your asbestos exposure. Ask them if they see any issues that might necessitate further asbestos-related disease testing. Ask them if they'd recommend pulmonary function monitoring. These simple, inexpensive tests don't expose patients to radiation and can be safely done on a regular basis.
  • Take special note of the symptoms of mesothelioma. If you develop a chronic cough, feel chest pain or experience shortness of breath, make an appointment with your physician. During this appointment, be sure to remind the doctor about your history of asbestos exposure.
  • Remind yourself that most asbestos-related diseases have a latency period of 20 to 50 years. This means that people who develop asbestos-related diseases generally don't become ill until several decades after they inhaled asbestos. Although you do not have symptoms now, you should remain vigilant for the rest of your life.
  • Don't allow yourself to live in fear. Health hazards are worth taking precautions to avoid, but they're not worth prolonged anxiety. If you're stressed to the degree that it interferes with your ability to enjoy life, consider talking with a counselor.

    If You've Been Exposed to Asbestos and Have Symptoms

    • Go straight to an asbestos-related disease specialist. As soon as possible, make an appointment with somebody who's familiar with the earliest stages of mesothelioma. They'll be able to determine whether your symptoms indicate asbestos-related illness, or a more common disease.
    • If you live in an area that doesn't have an asbestos-related disease center, look for a thoracic oncologist. They're specially trained to identify cancers of the chest, and are the next best bet if a mesothelioma specialist isn't accessible.

    Healthy Habits for Everyone

    Certain pre-emptive measures are appropriate whether or not you have asbestos-related disease symptoms. Note that these measures don't prevent cancer – but they can certainly strengthen your body to ward off future illness.
    • If you smoke, join a cessation program. Tobacco and asbestos have a cumulative carcinogenic effect – meaning they strengthen the other's ability to cause cancer. Furthermore, when your lungs have been weakened by years of smoking, they may be more susceptible to developing mesothelioma. Even if you've been smoking for years, quitting can have a significant impact on your asbestos-related disease risk.
    • Stick to a regular vaccination schedule. The Department of Veterans Affairs recommends that you pay special attention to flu shots and pneumovaccines if you have a history of asbestos exposure.
    • Clean up your diet. We're well aware that diets rich in fruits and vegetables can help protect the body against various diseases. But did you know that diets high in red meat may make you more susceptible to lung cancer, and that people with higher overall meat consumption may be more at risk for certain malignancies? Focus on packing your plate with as many anti-cancer foods as possible. Berries, garlic, broccoli and soy protein are a great place to start.

After graduating with an English degree from Southeastern University in 2010, Faith Franz came on board as a health and wellness writer for The Mesothelioma Center.

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