Guest blog post from the Pleural Mesothelioma Center.

Did you know that every year an estimated 3,000 people are diagnosed with an aggressive, incurable cancer caused by a once highly valuable, naturally occurring mineral? Mesothelioma is a terminal cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

For years, asbestos was added to an array of products, including ceiling and floor tiles, insulation and fireproofing, in many homes, public buildings and offices. Valued for its high heat resistance and versatility, the substance was also used in nearly every branch of the U.S. military.

When undisturbed, asbestos poses a lower health risk. If the compound is disturbed, which can happen naturally through erosion, natural disaster or accidentally during a building renovation, millions of microscopic fibers can be released throughout the air.

This poses a major safety risk because those fibers can be inhaled or ingested by anyone in the surrounding area. If these toxic fibers become lodged in the lining of a person’s lungs or abdomen, the person is at risk for multiple asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma found in the lining of the lungs is called pleural mesothelioma; this accounts for nearly 75 percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses. The second most common form, which occurs in the lining of the abdomen, is called peritoneal mesothelioma.

Once someone has been exposed to asbestos, they typically have to wait decades to find out if they will develop one of these debilitating health conditions. Most asbestos-caused diseases, especially mesothelioma, have exceedingly long latency periods. In many mesothelioma cases, the patient was exposed to the deadly mineral 20-50 years beforehand.

Because of this extraordinarily long latency period, seniors are at the highest risk for developing mesothelioma. Given the extensive use of asbestos in the military, veterans must pay close attention to their health; in fact, an estimated 30 percent of mesothelioma cases are among veterans.

For seniors with any history of asbestos exposure, it is essential to tell your physician about all instances involving asbestos. It is important to closely monitor your health for any changes.

The most common signs of pleural mesothelioma include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, fever, chest pain and pleural effusion. Of course, many of these symptoms overlap less aggressive diseases such as COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, a different form of lung cancer or even old age.

As a result, many patients put off going to their physician with these symptoms, which leads to a late diagnosis.

Like many cancers, early diagnosis is key to a better prognosis. In the early stages of mesothelioma, patients have a larger number of treatment options and can tackle the cancer in a more aggressive fashion, which typically leads to a longer life expectancy. When it comes to mesothelioma, don’t take any chances. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

People diagnosed with mesothelioma do not need to battle the cancer alone. Patient Advocates can help every step of the way. From finding a mesothelioma specialist to learning about the latest clinical trials, patients can rest assured that they are in good hands.

The Pleural Mesothelioma Center has a team of Patient Advocates available for you around the clock. It’s a free resource available to help mesothelioma survivors and their families around the country.