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Dillon Henderson Majored in Multimedia Film and Production at Georgia Southern University. he He is the second place winner of the Asbestos.com Fall 2021 Scholarship.
The United States of America has the most powerful army in the world. Our troops serve bravely every day to protect our rights, freedoms and our country. Unfortunately, for most of the past century, personnel of the US Navy have been indirectly harmed by the Navy’s use of asbestos.
This heat-resistant metal has been used in fabric and insulating materials on marine vessels and shipyards. Unfortunately, asbestos is toxic and exposure to it can cause mesothelioma, an incurable cancer.
Mesothelioma tumors form in the tissues that line important organs such as the lungs, heart and abdomen. These tumors can cause breathing problems, chest or abdominal pain, fatigue, and more.
The average life expectancy for mesothelioma is 12 to 21 months from diagnosis for most people. The five-year survival rate is about 12%. There are treatments for mesothelioma, but there is no cure.
History of asbestos in the Navy
The best men and women in America who served in the US Navy before 1980 may be living with a terrible disease today due to the extensive use of asbestos on board naval ships.
Prior to 1980, US Navy ships were filled with asbestos. The military used toxic metal because it is cheap, strong, and resistant to heat and chemicals. These qualities make asbestos excellent for fire resistance and building durable products that will withstand the normal rate of decomposition. Asbestos has been used from bow to stern on all naval ships.
More than 300 products containing asbestos have been used in marine shipbuilding. Letters, records, notes and other documents detail the various equipment on asbestos-containing ships. It was used in engine rooms, boiler rooms, dining halls, sleeping quarters, and many other areas. These historical documents were released to the public in the late 1970s.
Banning asbestos can save lives
By 1980, as information spread about the dangers of asbestos, precautions were taken to avoid its use on Navy ships. However, for sailors before that time, the damage had already been done. Many find themselves with mesothelioma later in life and burdened with this incurable cancer.
In 2019, an assessment of veterans and conditions related to asbestos was conducted. Sailors who were mechanics and technicians working near boilers and pipes and doing firefighting were found to have the highest mesothelioma mortality among the 114,000 veterans surveyed.
Recognizing the dangers of asbestos seems like an improvement in the situation, but it is not yet fully cured. While the Navy has made efforts to ensure that fewer asbestos-containing products are used on naval ships, asbestos is still allowed today if there is no alternative.
Measures must be taken to completely ban asbestos. Exposure to asbestos continues to harm our elite military personnel who ensure our safety. We cannot allow this terrible disease to affect our sailors any longer.
Emerging therapies help patients
Mesothelioma treatments include a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, and surgery. These treatments can help improve quality of life.
An anti-cancer treatment called Tumor Treating Fields uses polarized electric fields to disable mesothelioma cells and stunt their growth. It is given through the skin via hot pads. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
A drug called bevacizumab (Avastin) ASCO that uses antibodies to limit the growth of tumors is also recommended. An immunotherapy drug called pembrolizumab (Keytruda) that’s FDA-approved and helps the immune system recognize and attack cancer cells.
While treatments do their best to limit growth, reduce pain, and prevent or remove fluid buildup around areas where tumors are located, there is no cure for mesothelioma. Treatments can only do so much to relieve pain and extend people’s lives.
We need to raise awareness of this deadly form of cancer. This information should be disseminated to help fund mesothelioma research and aid the search for a treatment.