Mesothelioma :: The deadly yet preventable cancer

logo finalLast week, I received a lovely email from Emily Walsh, the Community Outreach Director of the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance is the largest web-based mesothelioma community of its kind, offering a place to share current clinical information, new treatment options for asbestos cancer patients, and personal journeys with mesothelioma. Emily spends much of her time educating the public about mesothelioma through blogging and social media. She asked if I’d be willing to share some facts about this rare form of cancer here on the blog and of course, I was happy to do so.

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer affecting the mesothelium, a thin membrane lining the lungs, abdomen, and heart cavities. Since this cancer can lay dormant for decades before attacking the internal organs, prevention and early diagnosis are of utmost importance.


Exposure to asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos is an insulating material made up of magnesium-silicate mineral fibres. It was popular among builders and manufacturers for many years because of its sound absorption and resistance to melting and burning.

How does asbestos exposure cause mesothelioma?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is invisible to the naked eye. Loose or airborne asbestos fibres are easily inhaled and once that happens, the fibres lodge easily in the protective lining of the lungs. Inhaled asbestos is the main cause of pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lung’s protective lining in the chest cavity.

If ingested, asbestos can lead to the less common peritoneal mesothelioma (affects the abdominal cavity) or pericardial mesothelioma (affects the cardiac cavity).

Things You Should Know about Mesothelioma

1. No amount of asbestos exposure is safe.

Just exposing yourself once could put you at risk for developing the disease later on in life. Typically, there is a great deal of time between a person’s initial exposure to asbestos and the on-set of asbestos-related problems. The latency period may be 20-50 years after exposure.

2. Asbestos was once used in more than 4,000 consumer products.

During much of the 20th century, at least 4,000 household products used by Canadians contained asbestos in varying amounts. Common household items still being used today like hair dryers and crock pots may contain asbestos.

3. Asbestos can be found in older homes, schools, factories, and commercial buildings.

Most homes built prior to the 1970s, along with public buildings still could potentially contain asbestos because of materials used in original construction.

4. Asbestos exposure is still the leading cause of occupational cancer in the US and Canada.

Even though 30 years have passed since the United States government first issued strict warnings concerning the continued use of asbestos, many workers who were once exposed are now at risk of developing the disease.

The number of mesothelioma cases in Canada is among the highest in the world. According to Cancer Care Ontario, occupational cancer is the leading cause of job-related deaths in Ontario.

  • Since 1997, the number of compensated claims for on-the-job cancer deaths has dramatically increased and surpasses those for traumatic injuries.
  • Between 1997 and 2010, approximately 71% of all accepted occupational cancer fatality claims were the direct result of exposure to asbestos.
  • Of these deaths, approximately 93% were caused by lung cancer or mesothelioma.
  • Between 2006 and 2010, there were 402 accepted claims for occupational lung cancer deaths in Ontario alone, and 626 nationwide.

5. United States Veterans are at the greatest risk.

For many years, asbestos was used across all branches of the military. Many veterans and shipyard workers were exposed to high levels of asbestos from several different applications.

#6. Mesothelioma can be caused by secondary exposure.

Family members of those who were directly affected by on-the-job asbestos exposure may also be at risk of developing mesothelioma.

#7. Asbestos is still not banned in the US and Canada.

While countries in the European Union and around the rest of the world have banned all types of asbestos, the US and Canada still lag behind. US Federal law requires that newly manufactured products contain no more than 1% asbestos. Although its use is regulated, roughly 30 million pounds are still being used each year.

Asbestos use in Canada has a long history, beginning with the opening of the first asbestos mine in Quebec in 1879. By 1966, Canada was producing 40% of the world’s chrysotile asbestos. By the 1970s, doctors had declared the asbestos mining towns in Canada to be among the most dangerous in the world, with rates of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases skyrocketing.

Canada continues to fight a universal ban on chrysotile, holding on to the last thread of the asbestos mining industry in the country.

Asbestos is still widely used today and as such, awareness of the risks of exposure is very important. Check out Emily’s blog for up-to-date information and stories on mesothelioma.

If you wish to learn more about this disease, please visit the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance website for a wealth of useful information and links.

You can also connect with the community on Facebook.

(Information via Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance BlogCancer Care Ontario, The Mesothelioma Center)

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