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Freight and Material Handlers - Mesothelioma Risks

Among the occupational groups that are at risk for developing the cancer mesothelioma, freight and material handlers rank particularly high. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer which usually affects the lungs and the membrane which surrounds and protects them (the mesothelium). It is linked closely with exposure to the carcinogen asbestos, and the transport of this asbestos is what puts material and freight handlers at such high risk for the disease.

Asbestos has been used in thousands of products, particularly in various forms of insulation and in building and construction materials such as wallboard, cement, tiles, shingles and joint compound. Freight and material handlers would have come into contact with these asbestos-containing products, or the raw asbestos which was used in their manufacture, when it was shipped.

Although the dangers of asbestos, including its link to mesothelioma and other debilitating illnesses, have been known for a very long time, it was used throughout the twentieth century. That's because its properties were so valuable, and its applications so varied. First and foremost, asbestos is extremely resistant to heat and flame, which makes it perfect for use as an insulating material. It's also durable and lightweight, and can help increase the tensile strength of other materials. Asbestos can be mixed with concrete and other building substances, and can even be woven into fabric.

Mesothelioma is a cancer which develops when the asbestos-containing products are broken or damaged, at which point the asbestos can disintegrate into millions of microscopic, yet still very dangerous, fibers. This asbestos particulate, when inhaled, can accumulate in the body's soft tissues, such as the lungs and other organs - including the mesothelium.

One of the most unusual aspects of mesothelioma is that it has an extremely long latency period. In other words, it can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years for the disease to become symptomatic, by which time it has usually metastasized and spread, sometimes throughout the body. If mesothelioma is diagnosed early enough, when it is still in Stage I, surgery can be an option, depending on the location of the tumor relevant to the lungs and the patient's overall health. Unfortunately, a Stage I mesothelioma diagnosis is rare. Much more often, the disease has already reached Stage III or Stage IV, otherwise known as the end stage, before it is discovered by the patient and physician.

At this point, chemotherapy and radiation may help stop the spread of the cancer, or provide palliative relief, but other times patients may feel that the side effects of these treatments - nausea, hair loss, weight loss, and discomfort - may not justify the benefits. Pain medication may be prescribed, and a procedure called thoracentesis can be done. Thoracentesis involves the use of a thin needle, attached to a catheter, to remove pleural fluid after it has accumulated in the chest cavity. This can help the patient breathe more easily, and may relieve pain as well.

Freight and material handlers should make their physicians aware of any possible exposure to asbetsos, and educate themselves about the symptoms of mesothelioma, which can include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chest pain, and a persistent cough.

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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