The usage of asbestos has caused a tragic mark of illness on families across the nation. Some medical observers have noted that it’s possibly the biggest epidemic of disease made by human beings in the history of the United States. Perhaps even more tragically, though, the entire epidemic was completely preventable.

Mesothelioma is a disease caused only by asbestos exposure. It is by far the most covered up medical condition in American history. For decades, in fact, business owners and government officials were warned about asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma, but did nothing to stop asbestos usage. Here are some essential facts about the disease.

It’s a Rare Cancer

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare — but almost always fatal — form of cancer that can develop on the protective lining that covers most major organs in the human body. It also targets the pleura, which is the inner lining of the chest cavity and the outer lining of the lungs.

Natural Minerals Cause Most Cases

Mesothelioma involves prior exposure to the naturally occurring set of minerals called asbestos. The minerals are extremely dangerous when they’re inhaled. What makes mesothelioma difficult to pinpoint is that symptoms don’t begin to appear until at least 15 years after exposure (the average is 30 years).

Asbestos Was Used for Centuries

It was very popular for 19th-century builders to use the substance to utilize its fire resistant and sound absorption properties. It was ingrained in foundations, ceilings, and walls by mixing it with cement. It was also woven into fabric, such as curtains and carpeting. The earliest record of human beings using asbestos refers to residents of the Lake Juojarvi area of East Finland around 4,500 years ago. They used to fortify pots and cooking tools with anthophyllite, which is an asbestos mineral.

Commercial use skyrocketed during the 1940s, which exposed millions of Americans to asbestos dust.

Doctors Warned Business Owners Early in the 20th Century

By this time, medical professionals had dubbed the condition “asbestosis,” referring to most cases of asbestos related cancers. At the same time, they were warning owners of factories and mines that their employees were at risk for this deadly condition because they weren’t furnished with protective gear to keep them from inhaling it. Those warnings were largely ignored, though asbestos was identified to be a contributing factor in the deaths of 50 people in 1906.

By the 1930s Companies Were Seeing a Trend

Some companies that processed asbestos on a daily basis began to see a trend in the number of employees who developed severe respiratory conditions. It quickly became clear that there was a connection between asbestos exposure and these conditions, but not much was done about it for years, until government regulations began to require employers to protect their employees while working with this dangerous substance.

Symptoms Vary by Type

Depending on where the cancer manifests in the body, mesothelioma symptoms can differ. Those who are diagnosed with mesothelioma tend to have a lot of questions and concerns about their health, as well as any legal rights they have. The Ask Jim: Asbestos Video Series answers a lot of those questions and these videos are a valuable resource for mesothelioma victims. Here are two of the most common types of this cancer and the symptoms most commonly associated with each:

Pleural

Affecting the thin, protective layer of cells that cover the lungs and the chest wall, pleural mesothelioma is characterized by chest pain located just under the rib cage. Painful coughing, shortness of breath, lumps of tissue under the skin on the chest, and otherwise unexplained weight loss are symptoms you’d experience.

Peritoneal

The peritoneum is the thin wall of cells that surround the entire abdominal cavity. It acts as a lubricant, allowing organs and other structures within the body to contract and expand normally. Its symptoms are similar to that of pleural mesothelioma, but have key differences. Symptoms are characterized by abdominal pain and swelling, lumps of tissue in the abdominal cavity, and unexplained weight loss.

Other Rare Forms

Other rare forms of mesothelioma are pericardial, which affects the heart’s surrounding tissue, and tunica vaginalis, affecting tissue surrounding the testicles. The symptoms of these types of this deadly disease are less clear than the more common forms. Known symptoms are difficulty breathing in the case of pericardial, and swelling or a mass on a testicle.

Though asbestos exposure is very carefully monitored by OSHA and the EPA, mesothelioma cases continue to emerge thanks to the latency of the onset of the disease. Thanks to continued research and prevention efforts, the mortality rate for asbestos related cancer cases has decreased in recent years, but it remains an issue as those who were exposed decades ago are diagnosed.

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