On Friday, Sept. 26, National Mesothelioma Awareness Day will shed light around the nation on a dangerous form of cancer. Established in 2004, this awareness day, established and promoted by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (Meso Foundation), has been the driving force behind the movement to bring attention and funding to mesothelioma research. In the past ten years, National Mesothelioma Awareness Day has raised nearly $1 million, received numerous local, state, and national government proclamations, and been the focus of dozens of media stories. Volunteers around the country unite to spread their message about mesothelioma through events and activities on this day every year.
Mesothelioma, sometimes referred to as meso or mesothelioma cancer, is a rare form of cancer caused by a carcinogen known as asbestos. This cancer can remain latent in those exposed for 30 to 40 years, eventually affecting the smooth lining of the chest, lungs, heart, or abdomen. The layer of tissue surrounding these organs is made up of mesothelial cells, hence the name mesothelioma. Three types of mesothelioma have been identified within the United States—pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial. The most common form, pleural mesothelioma, affects the lining of the lungs. In the United States, about 2,500 cases of this type of mesothelioma are identified per year. Peritoneal mesothelioma is found within the lining of the abdominal organ and accounts for about 250 cases per year. The third and least common type, pericardial mesothelioma, occurs in the lining of the heart and only accounts for about 5 percent of cases per year.
Though mesothelioma has traditionally been found in older men with backgrounds in factory work, shipyards, mines, or other environments with heavy asbestos exposure, more and more cases related to secondary exposure are being diagnosed. Each year, the cancer seems to affect younger people and a greater number of women. Mesothelioma is a dangerous disease, often in advanced stages by the time symptoms appear. The average survival rate of those diagnosed is one year.
The cancer-causing carcinogen, asbestos, is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral, known for its tensile strength, flexibility, resistance to degradation, and electrical resistance. For decades, these minerals have been used in thousands of products such as insulation, fireproofing materials, automotive brakes, textiles, cement, and wallboard materials. Asbestos particles remain in the air, and the inhalation or ingestion of these particles leads to the devastating disease. In recent years, the use of asbestos and its products has decreased, though they are still found in many residential and commercial settings. Asbestos, despite the well-known safety risks associated with its use, continues to threaten the health of unsuspecting workers and the public.
Asbestos has no safe level of exposure, causing over 107,000 deaths worldwide each year. Despite the overwhelming information related to the dangers of asbestos exposure, only 55 countries have banned asbestos. The United States and Canada are among the nations who have not yet decided to ban the carcinogen and still import large amounts of asbestos each year. The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) is a leader in the battle to ban asbestos worldwide.
In the United States, asbestos is recognized as a health hazard and is highly regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). OSHA’s standards for workplace exposure require employers to provide personal exposure monitoring to assess the risk, as well as hazard awareness training for any operations that may include exposure. The EPA has established laws for safely handling and disposing of asbestos.
Despite these regulations, even minimal exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma. When there is exposure, employers are required to establish regulated areas and control work practices to reduce airborne levels of asbestos. They must also provide personal protective equipment and medical monitoring for those exposed. OSHA invites anyone, employer or employee, to contact them with any questions or concerns by reaching out to their regional or area offices. This list of offices and contact information can be found by visiting osha.gov or calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Mesothelioma Awareness Day (Friday, Sept. 26) exists to inform people about the reality of the dangerous disease and raise funds for much-needed research. The Meso Foundation has gathered resources and instructions on how you can participate in this awareness day, available on its website (curemeso.org). Look for an event in your area or organize one on your own to make a difference in the fight against asbestos exposure this year. Use #curemeso in your posts to add your voice to the cause.