Understanding mesothelioma

Did you or someone in your family work in the insulation business, regularly use asbestos at work, serve in the military, bring home overalls, caps or gloves embedded with asbestos fibers for laundering? If they did there’s a chance they and possibly you were exposed to asbestos fibers and are at risk of mesothelioma. The video below is from the UK, but I selected it because it gives a very clear explanation of the disease and its development. 


Image: Asbestos and the military, asbestos.com

Asbestos was an integral part of the U.S. military for much of the 20th century because of its ability to insulate and fireproof – a lifesaving quality during wartime that ensured those serving their country were safe inside their vessels. While all branches of the armed forces used asbestos in the construction of ships, tanks, planes and barracks, the asbestos product manufacturers withheld information about the dangers of the toxic mineral from the service members who traveled in those vessels, handled those parts and products, and lived in military quarters insulated with asbestos.

Typical factory workers handled several different asbestos products throughout their day. Most of the asbestos materials were either insulation products or small parts on production machines.

For instance, lathes – which rotate a product on its axis so that workers can reach all of its sides -contained asbestos insulation around their friction components. As daily use wore down the insulation, the loose asbestos became a potential exposure hazard.

Grinding machines, which workers used to polish product surfaces, also contained asbestos. The grinding wheels were often made of an asbestos compound, such as Bakelite resin. Many of these machines also featured an asbestos-reinforced core.

Transportation belts and belt drives (including Raybestos and BF Goodrich conveyor belts) were often reinforced with the fibers. Over time, the belts would fray at the edges, which allowed the asbestos to enter the air. Like many other production machines, the conveying systems also contained asbestos insulation around their friction-generating parts.

Asbestos-containing construction materials further contaminated factories. Many production sites were built with asbestos tiles, bricks and drywall. At one abandoned glass factory, inspectors unearthed asbestos-contaminated metals (including Galbestos) and crumbled concrete composites. These products were used in many other factories across the nation, and may still remain in place today. (asbestos.com)

Asbestos exposure has been linked to the development of serious respiratory diseases and cancers, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other conditions. Asbestos exposure is most commonly related to occupational, environmental and secondhand factors.

For nearly 100 years, it was one of the most commonly used materials in industries such as construction, shipbuilding and manufacturing.

It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that researchers officially established the connection between asbestos exposure and serious respiratory conditions and by then, millions of workers had already been exposed in the workplace and in other locations. While federal asbestos exposure limits were imposed in 1972, an estimated 10,000 people in the United States continue to pass away each year from related illnesses.


Many of the early symptoms of mesothelioma are more likely to be caused by other conditions, so at first people may ignore them or mistake them for common, minor ailments. Most people with mesothelioma have symptoms for at least a few months before they are diagnosed.

Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the chest) can include:

  • Pain in the side of the chest or lower back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss (without trying)
  • Trouble swallowing (feeling like food gets stuck)
  • Hoarseness
  • Swelling of the face and arms

Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma can include:

  • Abdominal (belly) pain
  • Swelling or fluid in the abdomen
  • Weight loss (without trying)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation

These symptoms can be caused by mesothelioma, but more often they are caused by other conditions. Still, if you have any of these problems (especially if you have been exposed to asbestos), it’s important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

This video from the UK gives a helpful, clear overview.