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Should we use early screening for mesothelioma?

Early detection of cancer is very helpful for treatment success. To catch colon cancer, colonoscopies are recommended for everyone older than 50. Lung cancer screening has been recommended for those who have a long history of smoking. Because asbestos exposure can cause asbestosis, and then develop into mesothelioma, it seems as if regular screening could be used to help prevent this deadly form of lung cancer.

One of the great difficulties with asbestos-related diseases is detect the presence of the disease before it is too late. Mesothelioma is a dangerous illness because it is caused by exposure asbestos fibers, but unlike lung cancer from smoking, which typically requires many years of cigarette use to trigger, mesothelioma can be caused by a few days exposure to airborne asbestos fibers.

Additionally, the exposure and the development of mesothelioma typically appears decades apart, meaning a construction worker could have had a job in their 20s involving the demolition of a building that had asbestos insulation on its heating system or plaster made with asbestos, and could have only been exposed to asbestos dust for a few days.

Yet, 30 or 40 years later, he could develop a persistent cough that does not go away. Other symptoms appear and then the diagnosis of mesothelioma arrives. And with it, the patient may only have months to live.

While screening has been shown to be valuable for smokers, no guidance has been issued that would suggest those who have potentially been exposed to asbestos should be screened. 

Source: About.com, "Lung Cancer Screening – Should We Include Asbestos-Exposed People as Well?" Lynne Eldridge MD, July 29, 2013