Veterans today are at risk for developing a multitude of illnesses that can range in impact from mild to extreme. Whether it be a physical injury from one incident, or delayed onset symptoms as a result of prolonged exposure to certain hazards, the life of a veteran can be in danger long after they are no longer actively serving. One serious illness that veterans can be at risk of developing is mesothelioma. Here are some things that all veterans should know about this dangerous cancer:
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers. Asbestos is a mineral that can be found in various construction materials, especially in products used prior to the 1970s. Due to its average 10-50 year latency period, mesothelioma does not usually present itself until much later that the asbestos exposure occurs.
While all veterans and active duty service members are at risk for having been exposed to asbestos, you are more likely to have been exposed and develop mesothelioma if you served between the years 1930 and 1980. This is due to the high volume of asbestos products being used and the low restrictions of their use.
There is an even higher correlation between mesothelioma and navy veterans. Asbestos-containing materials are especially common in shipyards and shipbuilding materials, and being in tight spaces can increase the risk of asbestos fiber inhalation. Veterans who served in this branch should be high-alert for mesothelioma symptoms.
Mesothelioma is often thought of as only being a type of lung cancer. However, this disease has various types that can impact different parts of the body. Each type of this cancer also comes with a different set of symptoms. The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining surrounding the lungs. This type of mesothelioma is responsible for about 80-90% of diagnosed cases. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma might include chest pain, a persistent cough, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, fever, and night sweats.
The next most common form of this cancer is peritoneal, which affects the lining that surrounds your abdominal organs. Peritoneal mesothelioma can include symptoms like abdominal pain and swelling, weight loss, and even blood clotting.
The two other, more rare, types of mesothelioma are pericardial and testicular. Pericardial mesothelioma affects the lining surrounding the heart, and testicular mesothelioma affects the lining around the testicles. Symptoms of mesothelioma in your heart include chest pain and an irregular heartbeat. And for testicular mesothelioma,you might experience testicular pain, scrotal swelling, and you might even notice a mass.
While exposure to asbestos might be more likely to occur during active duty, veterans can also be at risk for exposure depending on their career path after serving. Because of skill sets gained from your time in the military, many veterans may choose to follow careers in engineering, construction, or mechanics. These occupations are all at risk for asbestos exposure due to the products used.
You may also be at risk after your years of active service from secondhand asbestos exposure. Secondhand exposure can occur when there are asbestos fibers left on your uniforms or personal belongings, and you end up inhaling or ingesting them. You could also come into contact with someone who is still serving and in the presence of asbestos-containing materials, which could put you at risk.
If you have suspected symptoms of mesothelioma, it is crucial to visit a doctor. Early diagnosis can be critical in the setup and success of mesothelioma treatment. However, both the treatment for mesothelioma and the illness itself can greatly impact your financial situation and your ability to provide for yourself and your family. Luckily, organizations have recognized this and have implemented ways to help.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) recognizes illnesses due to asbestos exposure during service and has made financial benefits available for things like expensive treatments and potentially lost wages. Veterans can file a mesothelioma VA claim, or an asbestos-related lung cancer claim, both of which are given a 100% disability rating. The VA can also assist with finding specialized care through VA accredited hospitals.
Life after active duty can be a difficult period of adjustment and you may still feel the impacts of your time in the service for years to come. You can set yourself up for life-long success by arming yourself with as much information as possible and the knowledge that you have help available to you.