While it’s true that not everyone who is exposed to asbestos gets sick, what’s also true is that not everyone who is sickened by asbestos exposure gets mesothelioma…at least not immediately. But many asbestos related health issues are mesothelioma precursors.
The results of years of asbestos exposure manifest in a variety of different ways. For some individuals, little warning is given before the mesothelioma diagnosis becomes a reality. For others, the ailments we describe below may be what appears first.
Some may not lead to cancer. Others may. But all clearly indicate the dangers of exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing materials and are potential mesothelioma precursors.
The Centers for Disease Control note that some 50 percent of all individuals who are/were regularly exposed to asbestos develop scarring on their lungs. In medical terms, the scars are referred to as pleural plaques. Pleural plaques usually don’t present any specific symptoms and many who suffer from them are totally unaware that the scars are present.
Often, they’re discovered during x-rays for something totally unrelated or may be found during the scans that many asbestos-exposed individuals receive annually.
Pleural plaques do not indicate the presence of cancer but they certainly prove that asbestos exposure can affect one’s health. Usually, when doctors spot these plaques, they will order further testing just to be sure that no cancer cells are present.
Pleural effusion is the build-up of fluid that occurs between the visceral and parietal layers of the pleura, which is the lining of the lungs. Effusion can cause much physical discomfort and can make it quite difficult to breathe.
To relieve this problem, a doctor may choose to drain the area but without a surgical procedure known as pleurodesis, the fluid may return. The doctor will also want to test the fluid for the presence of cancer cells.
Asbestosis is very common among individuals who have been exposed to asbestos on a regular basis. Similar to mesothelioma, it often takes a few decades for the symptoms of asbestosis to appear. These symptoms are similar to those of asbestos-caused cancer and include:
1. Shortness of breath (mostly while active but, in the later stages, even while resting)
2. Chest pain
3. Low tolerance for physical activity
4. Cough that produces phlegm
5. Clubbing of the fingers (in severe cases)
Many individuals mistaken the early symptoms of asbestosis for another more common ailment, such as a cold, bronchitis, or pneumonia. Symptoms of this disease, however, tend to develop over a long period of time and don’t “go away”, as would be the case with cold symptoms.
Asbestosis isn’t necessarily an indication that the victim will eventually develop mesothelioma, but that possibility is indeed present. However, the asbestosis patients who are most likely to eventually be diagnosed with asbestos cancer are those who smoke and continue to do so, despite their diagnosis. Smokers are encouraged to stop smoking IMMEDIATELY upon diagnosis or if they suspect they have asbestosis.
Asbestos-exposed individuals who believe they may have any of these asbestos-related diseases need to schedule an immediate check-up with their doctor or specialist. Those already diagnosed with any of the above ailments should maintain a regular schedule of medical examinations, x-rays, and pulmonary function tests so as to keep an eye out for the presence of mesothelioma in the future.