Exposure to Asbestos Leads to Many Health Problems

A beautiful view of the Canadian Rockies. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
A beautiful view of the Canadian Rockies. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

This is my 600th column and 19th year of writing What’s up doc? How time flies when you are having fun. So, here we are in 2015. Let me wish you a Happy New Year. It is never too late to wish happiness to anybody at any time of the year.

We will start the year discussing a condition that is not so common now. But there are people who are suffering and if we are not careful then more people will be affected. People who are working in old buildings and construction sites.

I am talking about the risks of exposure to asbestos. Exposure to asbestos leads to many health problems including cancer called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma (also called malignant mesothelioma) is cancer that affects the protective lining that covers many of the internal organs of the body.

Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked in jobs such as miners where they inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers, or were exposed to airborne asbestos dust and fibers in other ways.

Asbestos fibres are strong, durable and non-combustible. They were widely used by industry, mainly in construction and friction materials.

How much asbestos is in a product does not indicate its health risk. If the asbestos fibres are enclosed or tightly bound in a compound, there is no significant health risk. Asbestos poses health risks only when fibres are present in the air that people breathe.

One of the main problems with asbestos came from easily broken up asbestos used in buildings until the 1970s. People working in construction, maintenance or in the renovation of older buildings should be particularly careful.

Mesothelioma commonly affects the outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall, but it can also arise in the lining of the abdominal cavity, the sac that surrounds the heart, or the sac that surrounds the testis.

The symptoms of asbestos exposer or mesothelioma are shortness of breath due to fluid between the lung and the chest wall, chest wall pain and unexplained weight loss.

The diagnosis may be suspected based on chest X-ray and CT scan findings, but must be confirmed either by chest fluid examination and biopsy. Mesothelioma carries a poor prognosis. Treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery is not very effective.

Health Canada has encouraged provincial occupational health authorities to adopt stringent workplace exposure limits for asbestos. Use of asbestos is strictly regulated under the Hazardous Products Act.

More information can be obtained from various sources like Wikipedia, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Health Canada and mesothelioma.net. The mesothelioma.net support group provides patients with free resources, support, education, and referrals to experienced mesothelioma doctors. For more information contact: sharon@mesotheliomahope.net

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