James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. has represented thousands of people who have been injured by exposure to asbestos. People sometimes contact us when they have been exposed to asbestos at home or at work, but have not been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease. They have concerns about whether they might develop an asbestos-related disease, and wonder whether there is anything they can do to reduce their risk of developing such diseases.
If you have been exposed to airborne asbestos, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos will develop an asbestos-related disease.
- It usually takes years to develop an asbestos-related illness.
- There are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. Let’s consider each of these points in turn.
Exposure to asbestos can cause a variety of diseases, including pleural disease (non-cancerous changes in the membranes lining the lungs and chest cavity such as thickening, plaques, or fluid build up), asbestosis (a non-cancerous scarring of the lungs), lung cancer and mesothelioma ( a cancer that affects the membranes lining or surrounding the lungs, abdominal cavity, heart or testicles). Asbestos exposure has also been associated with cancers of the larynx, ovaries, pharynx, stomach, and colorectum, although the strength of the evidence connecting these other cancers varies with the disease involved.
Not everyone who develops pleural disease or asbestosis will have trouble breathing, but asbestosis can be quite serious and even fatal.
Whether an exposed person develops an asbestos-related disease depends on a number of factors, such as:
- The amount of asbestos in the air. As a general rule, the more asbestos you are exposed to, the higher your risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. Mesothelioma, however, can develop even with low doses of asbestos.
- The frequency and duration of exposure. As a general rule, the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease increases with the frequency and length of exposure, but once again, it should be noted that mesothelioma can occur with low-level exposures.
- The amount of time that elapses after exposure. The amount of time between exposure and the development of the disease is sometimes referred to as the latency period. Asbestos-related diseases, especially asbestos-related cancers usually take several years or even decades to develop. It is not unusual for mesothelioma to take 40 years or more to manifest itself.
- Personal factors such as whether the person already has breathing problems
- Whether the person is a smoker. Smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer among people who have been exposed to asbestos, but does not seem to increase the risk of developing mesothelioma.
Once you have been exposed to asbestos, there is no way to remove the fibers from your lungs, but there are things you and your health care providers can do to reduce the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease, or slow down the progression of an existing disease, such as:
- Talk to your health care provider about your exposure. Based on your medical and work history, and your physical condition, he can determine whether you should have any additional testing such as x-rays or pulmonary function testing. X-rays of healthy children are not recommended because it usually takes so long to develop asbestos-related diseases, and too many x-rays can increase the risk of cancer.
- Have regular medical exams. Generally speaking, the sooner a disease is detected, the more likely it can be treated. At present, there are no cures for mesothelioma, but your doctor may be able to prescribe measures that will extend your life or increase the quality of life.
- Have yearly flu shots and pneumonia vaccinations, especially for older citizens
- Stop smoking!
- Avoid further asbestos exposure at home and work. If your home contains asbestos materials, please keep in mind that such materials usually do not present a threat if the material is encapsulated and is not is disturbed in some way such as drilling, cutting or scraping. Any removal or replacement of asbestos-containing materials in the home should be handled by trained professionals. If you work with or around asbestos, make sure you have proper training and use appropriate protective equipment, such as masks and respirators, and techniques, such as wetting down asbestos materials. You should also avoid bringing asbestos home on your clothing, because take-home exposures, especially among family members who wash your clothing, can put them at risk for developing asbestos-related diseases.
We hope you never develop an asbestos related disease, but if you or a loved one do have the misfortune to be diagnosed with a serious disease resulting from asbestos exposure, please call us at 304-347-5050 (local) or 877-341-2595 (toll free). You may also contact us through our website, http://www.jfhumphreys.com.
ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry), “Asbestos and Your Health: Health Effects of Asbestos,” https://www.astdr.cdc.gov/asbestos/health_effects_asbestos.html
ATSDR, “Asbestos and Health: Frequently Asked Questions,” https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/asbestos/docs/asbestos_factsheet_508.pdf
ATSDR, “Asbestos Exposure and Reducing Exposure,” https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/asbestos/asbestos_exposure.html