Mesothelioma has no regard for whom it affects, but certain special groups definitely show higher rates of contracting this rare form of cancer than others. Military veterans are one of these groups. Of the 25 million U.S. military veterans living today, at least 5 to 10 percent are likely to have been exposed to asbestos during their tours, meaning millions may be harboring a deadly disease and not know it.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma, an asbestos exposure caused cancer, has some unusual characteristics, making detection and proper, timely diagnosis difficult. It has a latency period that can last for up to 50 years, meaning symptoms of the cancer may not be observable for decades after initial exposure. Every branch of the service utilized asbestos for a wide variety of purposes. Its heat resistance, fire and soundproofing capabilities and insulating properties made it perfect for many military applications. This carcinogenic material was used extensively from the 1940s until the 1970s.
Symptoms displayed by someone infected with mesothelioma are often the same as symptoms of other conditions. A dry, persistent cough may easily be misdiagnosed as bronchitis. Shortness of breath can be a symptom of a handful of conditions less serious than mesothelioma, a terminal cancer with no real known cure. As a result, it may be misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
The prognosis of mesothelioma is usually unfavorable, however if diagnosed early there are treatment options that can help improve your life expectancy. There are four stages of the disease. If detection is made during Stages 2-4, most treatment options are related to simply easing the pain and providing comfort to the patient. Only those diagnosed during Stage 1 of the cancer really stand a strong chance of any long-term survival, through a variety of therapies and treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. With that being said, there are exceptions where victims have survived as many as 20 years post-diagnosis. The average life expectancy, however, of those diagnosed with this form of cancer is from four to 18 months. For someone who was aged 20 when exposed to asbestos, he or she may not display accurately-diagnosed symptoms until age 60 or 70. By then, the cancer has become firmly rooted throughout the body and survival expectations are low.
Asbestos in the Military
All branches of the United States military have used asbestos extensively in the past. It was used widely in the construction of base housing, so not only members are affected, but their dependents as well. In the Navy, use of the material was mandated and, in shipyards and shipbuilding facilities, more than 300 different materials containing this cancer-causing mineral were employed. Anyone who served on a ship from 1940 to the 1970s has very high odds of having come in contact with asbestos dust or fibers while on board.
Learn about the symptoms of mesothelioma and, if you have experienced one or more, consult a doctor specializing in this area. As a veteran, you may qualify for certain benefits. Take some time to learn about them too.