Mesothelioma Prevention

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Asbestos exposure is the primary risk factor for mesothelioma. To prevent this cancer, you must avoid contamination when working with or near asbestos-containing materials. Always follow safety guidelines when doing any work that may release asbestos dust.

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Can Malignant Mesothelioma Be Prevented?

Mesothelioma can be prevented, but you need to educate yourself about where asbestos may be hiding because it still lingers in the places we live and work. Asbestos awareness can help prevent asbestos exposure, the cause of mesothelioma and other health issues.

During the 20th century, U.S. manufacturers added asbestos to thousands of products. Many of these products, particularly building construction materials, can still be found in homes, offices and factories across the country.

Workers may encounter asbestos while on the job in settings such as shipyards, power plants, chemical plants, railroads and auto mechanic shops.

Ways to Prevent Mesothelioma

  • Avoid old asbestos insulation products that can easily release dust when disturbed.
  • If the home or building was built before 1980, check for asbestos prior to doing demolition or renovation work.
  • When working with asbestos-containing materials, make sure you, your co-workers and your employer follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

For decades, most workers and the general public had no idea asbestos exposure could lead to serious diseases such as malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

Some companies even hid the health risks of asbestos from their employees instead of implementing policies to prevent mesothelioma. Today, however, more people are aware of the dangers, especially those who work in industries that traditionally used the toxic mineral.

Mesothelioma Prevention at Work

In the early 1970s, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration created regulations to protect workers from asbestos. OSHA currently requires employers to test the air at worksites and keep asbestos levels below 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter.

In addition to monitoring asbestos exposure limits, OSHA requires employers to:

  • Perform air monitoring and keep records.
  • Complete regular assessments of asbestos risks.
  • Communicate asbestos hazards to workers.
  • Use proper work practices and controls to limit exposures.
  • Offer respiratory protection if exposure limits are exceeded.
  • Provide asbestos awareness training.
  • Provide medical surveillance to workers exposed to asbestos.
Asbestos warning sign at a jobsite.
Asbestos warning sign at a jobsite.

There are specific OSHA standards for general industry, the construction industry and the shipyard industry.

Although awareness of asbestos health risks has improved over the years, some employers still may not be taking the proper steps to prevent harmful workplace exposures. Workers must take their own precautions around asbestos and report any unsafe work conditions to OSHA.

You can take the following steps to help prevent asbestos exposure and related health conditions:

Preventing Workplace Asbestos Exposure

  • Ask your employer about any asbestos health risks in your workplace.
  • Never cut, saw, drill, sand, scrape or otherwise disturb asbestos-containing materials without wearing protective gear.
  • Don’t bring home shoes or work clothes that may have been contaminated with asbestos.
  • Don’t sweep, dust or vacuum asbestos debris with a normal vacuum cleaner. Use wet cleaning methods or a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
  • Always dispose of asbestos materials according to state and federal regulations.

When removing asbestos materials, follow proper abatement procedures. Never perform asbestos work for your employer if you are not trained and certified. If you lack the proper training in asbestos removal, leave this type of work to professionals.

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How to Protect Your Family from Asbestos

Anyone performing renovation work on a home built before 1980 should be cautious of asbestos. The only way to tell if a construction material in your home contains asbestos is to have a sample sent to a certified laboratory for testing.

Harmful exposures often occur when homeowners perform renovations that release asbestos dust into the air. Concealed asbestos materials in good condition are safe if undisturbed, but cutting, sawing, sanding, scraping or drilling into them creates a health risk.

Some of the in-home items that may contain asbestos include:

  • Attic insulation
  • Roof shingles and tar
  • Drywall and joint compound
  • Floor tiles and adhesives
  • Popcorn ceiling textures
  • Insulation wrapping on pipes, ducts and electrical wires
Diagram of Where Asbestos Can be Found in a Home
Asbestos use has declined significantly since the late 1970s, when the U.S. banned spray-on asbestos and several other uses. However, many older homes still contain asbestos.

An asbestos product that has become brittle and crumbly over time is called friable asbestos. Materials in this state are especially dangerous because toxic asbestos fibers can easily break off, float through the air and be inhaled.

Damaged or friable asbestos products should be encapsulated or removed from the home immediately. A licensed abatement company should perform the job, as this is the best way to protect you and your family from asbestos exposure.

Protecting Yourself from Asbestos in Your Home

  • Ask your home inspector or real estate agent if there is asbestos in your home.
  • If you have an older home, don’t perform DIY renovations without checking for asbestos first.
  • If you think you have found asbestos in your home, leave it alone.
  • Regularly check known asbestos products in your home for signs of wear.
  • If an asbestos product is worn or has become damaged, call an abatement specialist.
  • Never attempt to remove asbestos without help from a professional.
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Regulations on Asbestos in Schools and Public Buildings

The same asbestos-containing materials used extensively in home construction also were used to build schools and other public buildings where people work, learn and visit each day.

Government organizations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have regulations for protecting people from asbestos exposure in these buildings, including:

  • NESHAP: The National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants set strict rules for ensuring renovations and demolitions do not put people at risk of asbestos exposure.
  • AHERA: The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act requires every school to inspect for asbestos-containing materials and prepare an asbestos management plan. Schools must keep the plan on site and update it with each inspection.

Monitoring Your Health

Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions typically arise 15 to 50 years after the initial exposure to asbestos. People with a history of asbestos exposure should be diligent about monitoring their health.

Ways to Detect or Prevent Mesothelioma

  • Review Your Health: Keep track of changes to your health since you were exposed to asbestos, noting any new respiratory symptoms or new pains in your chest or abdomen. If new symptoms arise, keep a journal of the changes and share it with your doctor.
  • Get a Mesothelioma Blood Test: A blood test that can detect mesothelioma before symptoms appear was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dubbed MESOMARK, this test can be administered in a doctor’s office. Find out if your doctor has access to the test.
  • Maintain a Healthy Diet: A well-rounded diet that combines fruits, vegetables and whole grains can lower your risk for cancer. Regularly eat foods rich in antioxidants to help your body repair itself and fend off disease.

Talk to Your Doctor About Regular Medical Tests

People exposed to asbestos long ago can be monitored via a diagnostic imaging test — such as an X-ray — or a pulmonary function test, which measures how well the lungs are working.

If you have a history of asbestos exposure, be sure to tell your doctor and ask how frequently you should be tested for signs of disease. If mesothelioma symptoms arise — especially chest pain, shortness of breath or a persistent cough — see a doctor immediately.

When mesothelioma is diagnosed in its early stages of development, there are more treatment options available that may improve your survival and quality of life.

Chemoprevention Research

Researchers are investigating ways to prevent the development of mesothelioma among asbestos-exposed workers. Much of this early laboratory research is still being conducted on animals or in test tubes.

For example, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are investigating flaxseed lignans as chemopreventative agents. According to a 2018 study published in the journal Antioxidants, a synthetic version of a flaxseed lignan protected cells against asbestos-induced damage.

The researchers are also investigating new biomarkers to help identify asbestos-exposed workers who may be at risk of developing mesothelioma or lung cancer. The goal is to identify the people most at risk and use chemopreventative agents to prevent asbestos damage.

Smoking Cessation Programs

If you have been exposed to asbestos and you are a smoker, you can reduce your chances of developing an asbestos-related condition by quitting smoking.

There is no evidence that smoking increases a person’s risk of mesothelioma, but studies show that smoking can greatly increase the risk of developing asbestos-related lung cancer or asbestosis.

If you have a history of asbestos exposure, you should find a smoking cessation program and stop smoking immediately.

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Registered Nurse and Patient Advocate

Karen Selby joined Asbestos.com in 2009. She is a registered nurse with a background in oncology and thoracic surgery and was the regional director of a tissue bank before becoming a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. Karen has assisted surgeons with thoracic surgeries such as lung resections, lung transplants, pneumonectomies, pleurectomies and wedge resections. She is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators.

Walter Pacheco, Managing Editor at Asbestos.com
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7 Cited Article Sources

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  2. American Cancer Society. (2018, November 16). Can malignant mesothelioma be prevented?
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  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2018, June 14). School Buildings.
    Retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/school-buildings
  4. Pietrofesa, R.A. et al. (2018, March). Synthetic Lignan Secoisolariciresinol Diglucoside (LGM2605) Reduces Asbestos-Induced Cytotoxicity in an Nrf2-Dependent and -Independent Manner.
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  6. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. (2001, September). Public Health Statement for Asbestos.
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Last Modified July 17, 2019

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