Awareness & Research

Raising Awareness About Mesothelioma and Asbestos

Written By:
Mar 19, 2015
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Written By: Jennifer Mia,
March 19, 2015

Vanessa Denny is a student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She is the second-place winner of the Spring 2015 Essay Scholarship.

I will never forget that phone call. I had just returned home from a long day at work and was getting ready to relax for the evening.

It was my mother calling me. As soon as I heard her voice, I knew that something was wrong.

She had called to tell me that my uncle had just passed away. The line went silent, and I couldn’t catch my breath. I didn’t know what to say because my heart was filled with sadness. All I could do was cry and think about the son he left behind and wish I could have seen and spoken to him one more time.

My uncle had prostate cancer, and the disease took over his body quickly. The only good that came from this loss in my family was a passion for public health awareness and education that started growing inside me.

Types of Mesothelioma

Cancer comes in many types and degrees of severity. Some cancers, including lung cancer and breast cancer, receive plenty of attention because they affect so many people. But other cancers such as mesothelioma are rarely discussed.

Mesothelioma develops in the mesothelium, a tissue that surrounds our lungs, stomach and abdominal cavity. There are three types of mesothelioma:

  • Pleural: Affects the lining of the lungs
  • Peritoneal: Affects the lining of the abdomen
  • Pericardial: Affects the lining of the heart

However, pleural mesothelioma accounts for the majority of cases.

Exposure to Asbestos and Its Deadly Consequences

The disease is linked to asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a toxic mineral that was commonly used in products in the construction and automotive industries in the U.S., but can also be found in the environment.

If these products containing asbestos are damaged, they often release asbestos fibers into the air. When inhaled, these fibers can become trapped in the mesothelium. Over decades, they can lead to mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a silent killer.

It can take many years after exposure to asbestos to experience symptoms, which makes it difficult for doctors to diagnose and treat patients accordingly.

That’s why it’s important that workers in careers that can expose them to asbestos take steps to protect themselves.

Upcoming Treatments and Growing Awareness

While surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are the common treatment options for mesothelioma, therapies are constantly evolving and improving through various ongoing clinical trials at research centers worldwide.

The National Institutes of Health is running a clinical trial involving immune suppressors in combination with SS1P, an experimental cancer drug that targets cells that have mesothelin, a protein found in normal mesothelial cells, but overexpressed in people diagnosed with mesothelioma.

It is encouraging to know there are promising upcoming treatment options that will improve the quality of life and prognosis of people diagnosed with this disease.

In addition to these upcoming treatments, there is growing awareness of the disease and individuals, organizations and lawmakers are taking steps to restrict or ban asbestos.

For example, U.S. senators Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., last week proposed the Reducing Exposure to Asbestos Database (READ) Act to create a public database of asbestos-containing products.

Also, on Global Asbestos Awareness Week, which is celebrated April 1-7, groups present speakers and hold events to spread the word about the dangers of asbestos and raise money to help find a cure for asbestos-related diseases.

Receiving a diagnosis of mesothelioma or any other cancer can be frightening, but remember there are many support groups that help patients and caregivers cope with the disease.

The more attention we bring to a rare disease such as mesothelioma, the more people will come to understand its devastating effects. Raising awareness is key in protecting ourselves, finding a cure and supporting our community.

Vanessa Denny is a lead ophthalmic technician at a retinal eye clinic in Fairfax, Virginia, and is pursuing a master’s degree in a global health program at George Mason University.