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Why the Majority of Mesothelioma Patients are Seniors – Guest Blog

Today, my colleagues at the Mesothelioma Center have written about a disease close to their heart.  It is important we all know the risks of exposure to asbestos, as the following article points out.                      

Seniors may face a higher risk of developing certain diseases as they age. Some of these diseases are common, like osteoporosis, and seniors often develop them as the result of the natural aging process or lifestyle choices. Other diseases are far less common and are associated with a unique set of risk factors.

Mesothelioma is one such disease. The National Center for Biotechnology Information estimates that the average age at the time of diagnosis for mesothelioma is 60 years of age, but patients are also frequently diagnosed between the ages of 50 and 70. Although younger patients do develop mesothelioma on occasion, the cases are extremely rare.

Several factors contribute to the disproportionate rate of mesothelioma in seniors:

  • Asbestos exposure – the primary cause of mesothelioma – has drastically decreased since the 1980s. Before this time, however, asbestos was a common ingredient in a wide range of industrial and commercial products, and today’s seniors often encountered it at their previous jobsites.
  • Asbestos exposure generally does not cause instantaneous disease. Instead, asbestos-related diseases develop slowly over a period of 10 to 50 years. As a result, people who encountered asbestos before it was regulated may just now be developing mesothelioma.

Although younger people still face asbestos exposure risks, these risks are much lower. Additionally, there is much more information about how to safely handle asbestos now than there was several decades ago. Seniors often handled the carcinogenic fibers for extended periods of time without even knowing that it was toxic. The prolonged exposure that most seniors experienced (primarily at their jobsites) is most likely to lead to an asbestos-related disease.

How Seniors May have Encountered Asbestos

Seniors may have come into contact with asbestos from a number of different sources. Occupational asbestos exposure was the most common. During the 1980s – when many of today’s seniors were in the workforce – thousands of companies used asbestos-containing products. These products included shingles, tiles, pipes, adhesives, tape and various forms of insulation.

Seniors may also have encountered asbestos in the military. Until the Vietnam War, each branch of the armed forces relied heavily on asbestos products. Government bases, tanks, aircraft and ships all contained asbestos. In the late 1970s, though, they began phasing out their use of the fibers.

Secondhand asbestos exposure also heavily impacted many females whose family members worked with asbestos. Seniors without a history of direct exposure may have encountered the fibers instead by washing asbestos-contaminated laundry or hugging a worker who still had the fibers on their body. Environmental exposure – in which a person disturbed naturally occurring asbestos deposits – may also lead to an asbestos-related disease.

If you are a senior who may have experienced asbestos exposure, be sure to inform your doctor and seek annual health screenings for signs of asbestos-related disease. When the disease is caught in its early stages a patient’s life expectancy may increase.

Author bio: Faith Franz researches and writes about health-related issues for The Mesothelioma Center. One of her focuses is living with cancer.

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