Mesothelioma in Seniors
Cancer. The one word no one wants to hear from their doctor. A single word that carries a tremendous amount of pain, suffering and fear for so many. Despite that fear, important conversations regarding risk, prevention, and next steps must be had with a medical professional — especially after age 65. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that cancer is a disease of the aging. Almost half of all new cancer diagnosis are found in patients 65 or older.
However, age does not mean you are going to be subjected to an eventual cancer diagnosis. The likelihood of developing cancer can decrease through implementing risk-management measures like a healthy diet, consistent exercise, minimizing stress, and avoiding substance abuse. Benjamin Franklin said it best — “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Obviously, cancer can not always be prevented no matter how many measures are taken. Our actions in the past can often trigger current cancer development. Were you once a smoker? Or were you exposed to hazardous materials like asbestos while working? Asking yourself these questions can often lead to an early diagnosis at the first sign of symptoms, leading to an increased survival rate.
What You Should Know About Asbestos
You’ve heard the commercials, but how do you know if you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos? And why is it such a big deal?
Asbestos, a carcinogen and the only known cause of mesothelioma cancer, was heavily used as a construction material in an industrial and commercial capacity for many decades leading up to the 1980s. Though the United States has since ceased the mining of asbestos and implemented stricter regulations, hundreds of tons of the fibrous material are still legally imported into the country every year.
Mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive yet preventable form of cancer that develops when airborne asbestos fibers are inhaled and embedded into the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart.
Where Exposure May Have Occurred
Asbestos was first used in factories, oil refineries, chemical plants, railroad cars, and shipyards. Its durable and heat resistant nature made it perfect for pipes, boilers, brakes, building insulation, cement, joint compounds, and roofing shingles.
You may have been exposed to asbestos if you once worked at a construction job site, in shipyards, at a factory, aboard ships or NAVY vessels, or within the vicinity of boilers or insulated piping. Teachers, students, and other staff may also find themselves at a higher risk of exposure as asbestos was frequently used in the ceiling and floor tiles of older schools.
Oftentimes, the workers in these industries carried asbestos fibers on their clothing — exposing their families at home.
Age and Survival Rates
Mesothelioma hits the senior community the hardest. This may come as a surprise since the days of working in construction, manufacturing or serving in the NAVY are a thing of the past for many in this demographic. However, mesothelioma has an extremely long latency period and can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years before the first signs or symptoms of cancer present themselves.
Mesothelioma is regularly misdiagnosed for more familiar, less life threatening illnesses. Symptoms for this type of cancer are similar to more common viruses like a severe cold or the flu. The chest pain, serious coughing, and shortness of breath resulting from the cancer are easy to overlook. By the time mesothelioma is accurately diagnosed, prognosis is typically poor with less than a year to live.
With any cancer treatment, the earlier cancer is detected the better chance there is for remission or long-term survival. Medical science has advanced tremendously in recent years. For patients healthy enough, mesothelioma treatment options include radiation, chemo, surgery, and immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy, while not a cure, has proven to be a very successful alternative treatment option. It works by enhancing the patient’s immune system to attack and kill the disease. This type of cancer treatment is currently in the clinical trial process. Patients whose cancer does not respond to other forms of therapy may be eligible to participate in an immunotherapy trial if healthy enough — again, making early detection key.
If you think you may have been exposed to asbestos in the past it is crucial to seek counsel from a medical professional as soon as possible, even if you have not yet experienced prolonged symptoms. Your doctor will know what to look for in an X-Ray or PET scan and will develop a treatment strategy for you if symptoms arise.