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Engineers - Mesothelioma Risks

There are many different kinds of engineers, including electrical, civil, chemical, structural, aerospace and industrial. All engineers apply scientific and mathematical principles to the design and manufacture of structures or products. Engineers are involved in designing or developing roads, dams, railways, pipelines, buildings, medical equipment, appliances, power stations, oil rigs, airports, aircraft, spacecraft, and a whole host of other facilities and products that people and businesses use on a day-to-day basis.

No matter what area of expertise they have, however, or what field they work in, engineers have one thing in common: a higher rate of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos has been used as a fireproofing and building material since the time of the Ancient Greeks, but it has been most often used in the late 19th and early-to-mid-20th Century, as our society has grown from a localized, agrarian one to an industrialized, and increasingly global, one. With the development of new products, infrastructures and buildings, has come an increased need for building materials that are strong, flexible, lightweight, durable, and resistant to chemical changes and threats, such as fire, heat, extreme cold, salt water and corrosion. Asbestos fits all these bills.

Unfortunately, asbestos also has some rather dire consequences. When the asbestos is damaged or broken, it can release microscopic, often needlelike fibers into the air, where they can be inhaled. These fibers can then find their way to the body's soft tissues, such as the lungs and mesothelium, which is a membrane covering the lungs and lining the chest cavity. This is the beginning of the development of mesothelioma, which is a rare but deadly cancer.

Mesothelioma, however, can take up to half a century to fully develop. Most people who contract the cancer do not begin to show symptoms until 10 to 50 years after they were initially exposed to the asbestos. Its symptoms are often similar to other respiratory diseases, such as COPD, emphysema and bronchitis, thereby making it difficult to diagnose. These symptoms include difficulty breathing, persistent coughing, coughing up blood, chest or back pain, and wheezing.

As with most cancers, an early diagnosis of mesothelioma increases the possibility of effective treatment. Since it has such a long latency period, however, and is so often misdiagnosed, mesothelioma is not usually diagnosed until the later phases of the disease, by which time it has usually metastasized into other areas of the body. In these later stages, surgery is not an option, and the usual course of treatment involves mostly palliative care. The benefits of chemotherapy and radiation therapy must be carefully weighed against the possible side effects, which could diminish quality of life for the patient. Pain management is a likely form of treatment, and there is also a procedure called a thoracentesis, which removes excess fluid from the chest cavity in order to help the patient breathe better.

If you used to work as an engineer in any capacity, it's important that you have your health screened regularly, that you educate yourself about the symptoms of mesothelioma, and that you make your health care practitioner aware of your possible previous exposure to asbestos.

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Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Below are a list of occupations and trades that were at risk for asbestos exposure:

Last Edited: Thu November 14, 2013