Mesothelioma: Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines

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Army Veterans and Mesothelioma

As automated industries took off leading into the twentieth century and two world wars later demanded production on unprecedented scales, industrialists needed a material that was strong, flexible, durable, and resistant to heat, flame, and electricity. They thought they had their wonder material in asbestos.

And for years, they did. Asbestos was used in thousands of products from building materials to fire-resistant textiles, insulation to automobile brake pads. The United States military actually mandated its use for a time, lining the pipes of ships with insulation made from asbestos to prevent on-board fires. Army Jeeps used asbestos in brake applications, and barracks, mess halls, and other buildings were all constructed with asbestos drywall materials.

Documents now show that corporations and military officials were aware of the health risks posed by the mineral even before World War II, but did nothing to warn soldiers who interacted and even lived among the material. By the 1970s, however, more and more was being made public about the effects of asbestos exposure, and by the late 1980s the Environmental Protection Agency tried to ban its use outright. They were unsuccessful, however, as the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out rule was overturned in 1991, allowing manufacturers to continue using the substance in trace amounts that were heavily regulated.

Read more in the book “100 Questions & Answers About Mesothelioma

Those who had worked with asbestos and came into contact with the deadly fibers face a much greater risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases. Army veterans are no exception. When disturbed – through repair, constant friction, or even removal – friable asbestos particles become airborne, where workers can breathe them in. The fibers, which are either curly shaped or long and sharp, like needles, become lodged in the mesothelium, a protective membrane that forms a lining over the major organs of the body. This lining allows the lungs to expand and collapse, effectively controlling breathing. When asbestos wedges itself into the mesothelium, it metastasizes, spreading malignant cells, replacing healthy ones with defective ones, and leading to mesothelioma or other forms of lung cancer.

These are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma.

As of yet, there is no cure for mesothelioma. Doctors determine treatment plans based on staging systems, taking into account how quickly the disease has spread, the health of the patient and their age, and other individual characteristics. During the early stages, the disease is the most treatable. Surgery is typically the most effective route for patients to go. However, the invasive nature of the surgery, as well as the difficulty of operating on a growth so near the lungs, makes this method rare. And because of a long latency period – meaning symptoms of the disease might not appear for years or even decades – diagnosis does not often take place before the disease has reached more advanced stages. The two most common treatments for mesothelioma then are chemotherapy – using drugs to target and destroy cancer cells – and radiation therapy – using high-powered x-rays to weaken and kill tumors. These methods are often used in conjunction with one another or given separately, depending on the strength of the patient and the spread of the disease.

Read more in the book “Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers: A Patient’s Guide

Air Force Veterans and Mesothelioma

Thousands of air force veterans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, the result of prolonged exposure to asbestos in the past. That is because asbestos was widely used by the United States military throughout the twentieth century, and the after-affects of the carcinogenic material are still being felt by veterans of all branches of service.

Once thought a miracle material by builders and manufacturers alike, research began showing that exposure to asbestos caused cancer and other lung diseases. That’s because the microscopic fibers, when disturbed, become airborne and respirable. The particles, which can be either curly or long and needle-like in shape, become lodged in the mesothelium, the protective membrane that lines the major organs of the body and facilitates breathing. These threads can lead to malignant cells, tumors, and other lung diseases, including mesothelioma, the rare but deadly cancer caused almost exclusively by the fibers.

Still, asbestos, known for its strength, durability, and heat-and fire-resistant properties, was used in insulators, building material like drywall, ceiling tiles, and acoustic panels, and other household goods. It was also used in machines, brake pads, and gaskets, which were used in industrial settings as well as in the Air Force. For a time, the military mandated the use of asbestos, taking advantage of its unique properties in the building of barracks, administrative buildings, and naval ships. However, use of the dangerous substance wasn’t halted when veterans began coming forward complaining of difficulty breathing or chest ailments. Instead, it was decades before the government did anything to protect its soldiers. In the 1970s, the general public started becoming aware of what many industrial and governmental leaders already knew about the potential dangers of asbestos. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency finally enacted the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out rule to end its use in the United States. However, this act was overturned in 1991, allowing manufacturers to continue to use trace amounts of the substance in their products, under strict government regulation.

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With limited use since then – and increased safety measures for workers who do interact directly with the substance – asbestos cases are expected to peak in the United States in 2010. However, mesothelioma has a long latency period, which means symptoms may take years or even decades to appear. In the future, thousands of cases will remain undiagnosed for quite some time.

There is still no known cure for most asbestos diseases, including mesothelioma. However, doctors can give treatment to slow the spread of the disease and relieve pain for patients. When discovered, doctors use staging systems to gauge the progress of the disease and determine which treatment methods are best suited for the patient. Surgery is generally the most effective method of removing the growth, but the usual proximity of the tumor to the lungs and the health of the patient make it a difficult prospect. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also available options, using powerful drugs or X-rays to target and kill cancerous cells.

Read about Mesothelioma Survival Rates

Navy Veterans and Mesothelioma

The United States Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that there are currently over five million living navy veterans. Unfortunately, many of these veterans were once exposed to asbestos and have a high risk of developing the cancer known as mesothelioma. Before use of asbestos was discontinued in the 1980s, the material was used extensively on ships and in shipyards. Many types of seamen and shipbuilders never came in contact with asbestos, but thousands were allowed to expose themselves to this deadly danger.

Asbestos is the term given to a group of naturally occurring minerals known for their durability, high resistance to heat and electricity, and their ability to withstand chemical wear. Asbestos was regarded as an ideal construction material in situations where high temperatures or voltages were involved. It was commonly used as insulation for buildings and ships due to its properties as a good insulator and its fire-retardant abilities. Since the mineral was fibrous, it could even be woven into fireproof clothing and used by firefighters and gunners.

The Navy used asbestos-containing materials in every new ship and shipyard built from the 1930s to the 1970s. Asbestos was used extensively with boilers, condensers, steam pumps, gaskets, valves, and turbines. Any seamen who were electricians, plumbers, or engineers therefore faced a high risk of exposure when they were required to repair or apply asbestos. In fact, any seamen working with or around any of this type of equipment also faced risks of exposure. Additionally, seabees and dockhands that built and maintained boats were put at extremely high risk of exposure while installing and repairing asbestos insulation.

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As long as the fiber isn’t airborne, it doesn’t pose a health risk to anyone in its vicinity. That is why it is safe to live and work in many homes and buildings that have installed asbestos insulation – the material is sequestered in the walls or ceilings. On a ship, however, pipes and mechanical parts are often exposed. Wall and ceiling panels constructed of asbestos can be easily disturbed due to the cramped spaces. Additionally, a ship can rock, flex, and vibrate in response to varying sea conditions. This puts the asbestos under near-constant stress, and can kick tiny asbestos fibers into the air.

Tiny, airborne asbestos fibers can be very easily inhaled or swallowed. Once in the airway, they lodge themselves in the deepest parts of the lungs. From there, they most often find their way to the mesothelium – the thin lining that surrounds the lungs, heart, and abdominal cavity. In the mesothelium, they cause damage and induce mutations, changing otherwise normal mesothelium cells into cancerous ones. These cells divide uncontrollably, causing swelling and inflammation, and putting painful pressure on the lungs.

There is no known cure for mesothelioma. If you are a veteran of the Navy, it is important to talk to your doctor about the possible risks of exposure to asbestos that you had during your career. If you have been experiencing symptoms of lung disease, it is important to start treatment early to give you the best possible prognosis.

Marines Veterans And Mesothelioma

The very title Marine conjures thoughts of grit, guts, and ultimate courage. However, as unfortunate as it may seem, the word Marine also comes with a specific rhetoric involving the type of ultimate sacrifice made on the battlefield by Marines throughout history—death. What many may not realize about Marines, particularly veterans retired from the Marine Corps, is that death on the battlefield is not the only type of atrocity that goes hand-in-hand with serving one’s country to the fullest. More and more, with cases developing years after Marines have retired from duty, veteran Marines are learning of a new type of threat—Mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer attacking an individual’s mesothelium, or membrane covering and protecting the majority of internal organs. The mesothelium is made up of two layers of protective cells. One layer surrounds the immediate perimeter of the organ. The other layer forms a a sac around such organs, and in between the two layers the mesothelium creates a lubricating fluid that allows movement to take place. Look at it this way: A car without oil is at risk of break down; an internal organ—take the heart, for example—can function best when expansion or contraction can occur with the most ease. The mesothelium protects and enables organs to do so by providing layers surrounding organs and fluids that make the organs exist without friction between one another. With this brief description of the deadly disease in mind, it should not be hard to realize that without an effective mesothelium, tissue and organs are at risk for increased invasion. Mesothelioma, by nature, makes the mesothelium less effective—that’s because the cancer makes cells within the mesothelium abnormal and divided.

Marine corps veterans, particularly those housed and employed in building erected prior to 1970, are at an increased risk for mesothelioma contraction. When United States military installations were put into place, the primary goal was to allow for proper insulation and infrastructure. Unfortunately, as many Americans are aware of today, one such choice for building components of any facility, civilian or military, was asbestos, which is the prime cause of mesothelioma. And while laws and regulations are in place to limit the amount of asbestos used in construction methods today, the same can not be said for the past. With the need for fully equipped bases, the Marine Corps often utilized asbestos in the building of insulation for the electrical wiring, floors, roofs, wallboards, and fireproofing of many bases. Add to that the fact that if you were a Marine operating in fire-protecting suits, or on an underwater vessel, the risk of asbestos exposure in quantified significantly, and you can see why many veterans are dealing with the deadly disease today.

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Marines are dealing with the effects of mesothelioma today, as opposed to when exposure first occurred, because the latency period for the disease is quite long. In fact, many of the mesothelioma cases occurring today are results of individuals exposed between the 1940s and 1970s, meaning it can lay dormant for 20 to 60 years after exposure.

Although Mesothelioma is a relatively rare cancer when compared to the many that ravage through lives at an alarming rate, it is important to point out that of all the cases of life-threatening mesothelioma in the U.S., nearly thirty percent of victims are military veterans—a staggering amount. So if you served in the Marine Corps, particularly on a Navy vessel, prior to the late 1970s, it is important to try and recall all potential exposures and see a physician immediately.