Mesothelioma Awareness - Who is at Risk?

September 25, 2017

High risk occupations for mesothelioma cancer

Mesothelioma Awareness Day is tomorrow, September 26. It's a perfect time to take a deeper look at this deadly cancer. Mesothelioma commonly starts in the tissue of the lungs, or lining of the abdomen, and heart. It is a rare form of cancer with 2,400-2800 deaths a year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Who is at Risk?

Those who work in fields and occupations that are at a higher risk of asbestos exposure are at higher risk for developing mesothelioma cancer, including firefighters, carpenters, plumbers and military service members. Nearly 30 percent of Americans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma are military veterans.

Individuals working in high risk asbestos exposure occupations are not the only ones in danger. It can also affect their family members. When the individual returns home from work with asbestos fibers on their clothing or in their hair, their family members are now at risk of second-hand asbestos exposure. Those who are responsible for laundering the at-risk worker’s clothes are most commonly affected, but even small children who spend time with a parent before they clean up are at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.

If you or a family member has worked in one of the higher risk occupations, it is essential that you know signs of the disease.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma Cancer

Exposure to asbestos is a known cause of malignant mesothelioma. There are several common symptoms of mesothelioma cancer, including:

  • Mesothelioma Life Expectancytrouble breathing
  • chest pain
  • loss of weight
  • anemia
  • nausea

Mesothelioma has a latency period ranging from 20-50 years, so individuals may go decades without knowing they have been exposed to asbestos. The life expectancy of an individual who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma is very low. Fewer than 10 percent of patients live beyond five years. Early detection is a key factor in increasing the life expectancy, so regular check-ups are very important.

If you are experiencing these symptoms and/or are in a high-risk group for mesothelioma, talk to your primary care provider.

“If you have worked in a high-risk occupation but are not exhibiting signs, we will work with you to determine whether or not we should pursue testing for the disease,” says Providence Columbia Medical Associates’ Dr. Holly Smith, DO, who is certified in Internal Medicine. “If you are exhibiting signs, we will diagnose the problem to either rule out mesothelioma or begin treatment.”

How to Avoid Asbestos

The best way to keep out of danger of asbestos is to know where the potential threat might be. Asbestos is commonly found in older buildings, schools and other public buildings. Currently, there are federal regulations limiting the amount of asbestos that can be used in the production of new buildings. However, if you are in an older building, there are some places you should avoid that commonly contain asbestos. The most likely places are in caulking, insulation, ceiling tiles and surrounding pipes or ventilation systems.

Asbestos can have various physical appearances; for example, vermiculite asbestos can sometimes look like popcorn, and other times it can look like attic insulation, thick and fuzzy. If you do see asbestos, do not disturb it. Once the asbestos has been disrupted and the fibers are in the air, they can be inhaled.

Knowledge is power. The more you are informed about this rare disease and its causes and symptoms, the more prevention becomes a reality. Spread the word, and help end mesothelioma.

You may call 800-424-DOCS or visit to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider near you.


Dr. Holly Smith received her medical degree from the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine after receiving a Bachelors of Science in Dietetics from Michigan State University. She completed her residency in internal medicine, as well as a fellowship in nephrology, at Garden City Hospital in Garden City, Michigan. During her residency, Dr. Smith received the highest score in the country on the American College of Osteopathic Internists Inservice Exam. A Nephrologist is a medical doctor who specializes in kidney care and treating diseases of the kidneys, and Dr. Smith is board-certified in both internal medicine and nephrology. She is a member of the American Osteopathic Association and the American Society of Nephrology.