Archive for December, 2011

Overview of Asbestos and Its Uses

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that is formed in the earth and removed by mining. It has been used for over 2000 years in a variety of products, most taking advantage of asbestos’ fire-resistant properties. The material has been used in many countries for a variety of purposes. In the United States until the 1970’s, asbestos was commonly used in building materials such as floor tile, insulation, and roofing materials. Use in the US met a seemingly permanent decline in the 1970’s because of research that showed the health risks associated with uses of asbestos. Today, the leading producers of asbestos are Russia and China. The main consumers of asbestos products are China, India, Russia and Thailand.

There are six known types of asbestos which fall into two categories. The amphibole group includes five of the six types: amosite (brown), crocidolite (blue), anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite. The second group (the sepentine group), is a category of one, including only crysotile, or white asbestos. The properties and risks associated with each type depends on the nature of the fiber and how friable the material is. Friability refers to how easily the material can be launched into the air and potentially enter the lungs.

Although asbestos use has diminished greatly since the 1970’s, people the material is found in many structures. That’s because many of the buildings and structures that were made using asbestos materials still stand today. In homes built before the 1970’s, asbestos was used as insulation to help resist fire damage. Asbestos was often added to cement to increase it’s strength, and as a component of insulation boards, fireplace lining, roofing tiles and floor tiles. Applications that were particularly dangerous involved using more naturally friable forms of asbestos in applications that were more easily disturbed, such as in lagging and acoustic wall and ceiling “popcorn.” Because these materials still exist in many homes today, it is important for homeowners to be informed, especially if they plan to remodel or repair their home. In many cases, leaving the material undisturbed is the best course of action unless the remodel or repair is handled by an asbestos abatement expert.

Asbestos was used starting in the 1940’s in shipyards as insulation around pipes. Because of it’s light weight, low cost and resistance to heat and corrosion, the material was considered ideal until research linked the material to incidence of mesothelioma. Sadly, some companies continued to expose workers to these materials, even after the risks were well-known. Because of mesothelioma’s long latency period, many of these workers did not see health problems until recently. As a result, some people who are being diagnosed with mesothelioma are entitled to legal compensation. For more information on these or other mesothelioma-related topics, please visit our Mesothelioma and Asbestos FAQ or fill out our online form.

 

Mesothelioma: New Vaccine Offers New Hope

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Last week the Mayo Clinic published a press release about potentially groundbreaking cancer research that may eventually have a real impact on those suffering with mesothelioma. According to the press release, researchers in partnership at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and the University of Georgia have successfully tested a vaccine in mice that dramatically reduces the type tumors that make up the majority of cancer cases.

Vaccines are not typically used to treat cancers such as mesothelioma because most vaccines work by stimulating the body’s immune system. Because tumors grow from the body’s own cells, the immune system does not recognize these cells as “foreign,” and essentially ignores them. This vaccine, however, is different, as it can target cancerous cells based on a carbohydrate signature present in the proteins on the surface of the cell. When cancer forms at the cellular level, the surface proteins on the cell membranes change. Specifically, a carbohydrate sequence within the protein changes in a distinct way. For many years researchers have been attempting, with no success, to stimulate the immune system to recognize that difference. This new vaccine may do just that.

The tumors studied in these mice, like most tumors in humans, overproduce a protein known as MUC1 on the cellular surface that contains the type of carbohydrate sequence that changes when the cell becomes cancerous. This new vaccine, for the very first time, targets this carbohydrate sequence and steers the immune system to attack cells that carry that sequence. The vaccine operates in three-part harmony, so to speak, each of which is critical to the success of the vaccine. One aspect of the vaccine helps the body’s immune system to mis-identify the carbohydrate sequence as foreign, while the other two aspects stimulate the antibody and lymphocyte responses. The result is astonishing.

What’s more, not only does this particular vaccine tend to cause a very strong immune response, but also the MUC1 sequence it targets is found in a large majority of cancers that kill, including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and the historically aggressive pancreatic cancer. The vaccine could potentially be used as a prophylactic treatment for high-risk patients or as an alternative when, in cases like pancreatic cancer, surgery is not an option. According to the study’s co-author Geert-Jan Boons, Ph.D., Franklin Professor of Chemistry and a researcher in the UGA Cancer Center, MUC1 is “overexpressed” in 90 percent of patients who have so-called “triple negative” tumors, in which the tumors are not responsive to drugs or hormone therapy and are therefore very aggressive and difficult to treat.

You may be wondering where mesothelioma fits into this picture. Well, according to a research study published in 2008 by an Australian research team, malignant mesothelioma does result in the overexpression of the MUC1 carbohydrate chain. What this means in the long run for mesothelioma treatment is yet uncertain, but the results of the Mayo Clinic study show great promise for the future. According to last weeks’ press release, the research team is now conducting the preliminary research needed to launch a human trial, and if this stage goes well, human trials could begin as early as 2013.

Mesothelioma Treatment: Nutrition

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

When undergoing treatment for mesothelioma, nutrition can play a vital role in the outcome of and the quality of life during treatment. Eating foods high in protein, along with fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help prepare the body for the stress of treatments. Unfortunately, mesothelioma patients commonly experience a loss of appetite during mesothelioma treatment due to effects of chemotherapy or the disease itself.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), certain practices can aid in this process. Because tastebuds often change during chemotherapy, foods may lose their former appeal or even become unpleasant. To avoid a loss of nutrients, the ACS suggests trying alternative foods such as plant-based foods like peas and beans that may be more palatable. Limiting certain foods and beverages, such as alcohol and pickled and cured foods, can help as well. The ACS also recommends eating five colorful servings of fruits and vegetables each day, including dark green and deep yellow vegetables, as these contain phytochemicals that are very beneficial nutrients. In addition, maintaining as much physical acidity as possible will aid in overall health and well-being. Finally, cooking large meals and storing plenty of food in the pantry and freezer will help reduce overall work and stress sometimes involved in meal preparation.

Seeking support can also make a big difference. Among the various mesothelioma and asbestos resources, nutritionists can be very helpful for patients who are going through mesothelioma therapy. Nutritionists can help design a specific plan to help prevent malnutrition and muscle and bone wasting. A good nutrition plan may also help patients handle aggressive treatments, fight infection, and maintain the strength and energy needed for a better quality of life during and after treatment. Finally, a support structure of friends and neighbors can be vital to implementing a nutrition plan. If you or someone you love has mesothelioma, don’t be afraid to ask for support for assistance with tasks like shopping and meal preparation. This can provide a way for people who care to offer much needed support.

 

Complementary or Alternative Therapy

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

When diagnosed with mesothelioma, many patients are faced with a difficult prognosis. Because mesothelioma remains latent for many years, by the time symptoms are clear enough to warrant a diagnosis, the patient’s life expectancy is, in many cases, less than a year. While mesothelioma therapy and treatment may help, to date there are no known cures for mesothelioma. In the process of dealing with mesothelioma and its symptoms, many patients look for alternatives to mainstream mesothelioma treatment. To avoid costly and even harmful effects, it is important for people to understand more about complementary and alternative therapies.

Complementary therapies refer to methods that are used along with current medical care. They are not represented as cures, but instead are used to help alleviate symptoms. Some of the complementary therapies available are safe and can be quite helpful. Some people report that acupuncture can help reduce the experience of pain, and that certain teas can counteract nausea. According to the Mayo Clinic, several such therapies, including acupuncture, breath training, relaxation and meditation techniques have all shown promise in helping to relieve patients’ experience of breathlessness that is common to the disease. They also advise that sitting next to a fan can also help reduce the experience of breathlessness.

Alternative treatments refer to those that would replace mainstream or traditional therapies and treatments. While the idea of an alternative treatment can be very appealing to someone who has a debilitating disease like mesothelioma, there are currently no known treatments that cure mesothelioma. What’s more, many of the alternative treatments available have not been clinically tested for effectiveness or safety. Using these treatments in place of standard care can have many unfortunate consequences. Delaying standard treatment may have in impact on insurance coverage, while at the same time allowing the cancer to grow more quickly and become harder to treat.

The American Cancer Society recommends that anyone considering complementary or alternative mesothelioma treatments take certain steps to ensure that they are well informed of the known benefits and risks. Be aware of the possibility of fraudulent claims, and carefully research any products or therapies you are considering. Be sure to discuss these options with your medical professional, as they may have more information that could be critical to your health and well being.

The National Cancer Institute offers a online guide for people considering Complementary or Alternative medicine. The guide reviews several types of therapies, with examples of each, and offers links to several useful resources.

 

Study Highlights DIY Risks of Mesothelioma

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

A recent study in Australia confirmed that without certain precautions, do-it-yourself home renovation in homes build prior to 1980 may lead to increased risk of mesothelioma.

Australia has some of the strictest regulations on the uses of asbestos. In general, Australian workers in industries affected by mesothelioma tend to be well organized and vocal when it comes to protecting their health and safety. Lately, concern has been raised over risks of exposure to asbestos associated with home renovation. Results from a recent study published by researchers at the University of Western Australia provide evidence that the concern may be well warranted.

The study identified the primary source of asbestos in each confirmed mesothelioma case in Western Australia between 1960 and 2008, and analyzed the results for insights into the relative risk of certain activities. The results showed a marked increase since 1980 in the incidence of asbestos exposure through renovation. The study also showed that, in the last 4 years, approximately 36% of women and 9% of men diagnosed with mesothelioma identified home renovation as their primary source of asbestos exposure.

The results of this study are relevant in any part of the world. As homes built before 1980 begin to show signs of wear, they are being renovated more frequently. A large percentage of these homes were built using products that contain asbestos. Demolition, sanding, and drilling can disturb and release toxic dust from hidden asbestos, putting workers and homeowners at risk for developing mesothelioma.

The EPA has guidelines for identifying and addressing asbestos in the home, including information about where asbestos can be found, when it can be a problem, and how to identify materials containing asbestos. The EPA also lists “Asbestos Do’s and Don’t for the Homeowner” that give some valuable guidelines for home repairs, renovations and asbestos disposal.