Updated on October 14, 2011
Veterans at risk for mesothelioma cancer, among other illnesses
America is proud of those who have had the courage and made the sacrifices to serve in the United States Military. Unfortunately, as we know all too well, many veterans today still deal with mental and physical disorders as a result of their military service. These diseases range from mild to extreme and some are better known than others. One example of a lesser-known ailment that veterans encounter is related to toxic exposures. During the course of all United States conflict, and even in peacetime, military servicemen and women have often been exposed to harmful substances. One of the more common toxins that still affect veterans even today is asbestos.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with a stringy consistency. Even ancient civilizations found that asbestos possessed an exceptional capability to prevent temperature transfer and the capability to insulate. By the time WWII and the Vietnam War came around, asbestos was being used in thousands of manufacturing compounds. Among the more mainstream uses of asbestos was within military infrastructure. Asbestos was used in thousands of different products encountered every day by military servicemen and women. Asbestos could be found in naval ships and shipyards, aircraft constructions, and nearly any compound that required a resistance to heat and fire. Products such as attic and piping insulation, drywall compound, floor and ceiling tiles, air cell pipe covering, caulking, plastics, joint compound and even some brands of glue contained asbestos.
In the late 1970s, certified scientific evidence began to surface regarding the health hazards of asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers are microscopic, but extremely resilient. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they â€œclingâ€ to internal tissue [known as the mesothelium] which surrounds the lungs and abdominal cavity. Over time, these fibers irritate the mesothelium, sometimes causing plaques to form on the surface of this tissue, which often causes respiratory and other problems. Even more harmful is that these plaques can eventually become malignant. It is at this point that an individual may receive a diagnosis of the rare and aggressive cancer mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, it was not until after many naval and other military personnel were exposed to asbestos that the truth of its potential danger surfaced. Symptoms of asbestos-related illness may not manifest for 20-50 years following exposure, making the symptoms difficult to relate to asbestos exposure, which likely occurred many years before.
If you or a loved one knowingly worked with asbestos, you should closely monitor your respiratory wellbeing and consult a medical doctor that is familiar with the diagnosis and treatment of asbestos-related diseases. Early detection of asbestos health disorders can help doctors in identifying the best possible mesothelioma treatment options for you.
In terms of mesothelioma cancer and the military, the rates of mesothelioma navy cases remain the highest, but veterans from all branches are at risk.
For more information, please contact Doug Karr, Veteran Advocate & Outreach Coordinator, at dkarr [at] maacenter [dot] org.