Being Aware of Our Environment: Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Most of us are aware of the toxins in our environment that could be detrimental to our health, like pollution, mold, and secondhand smoke. But many people don’t really think mesotheliomaabout another danger that could be hidden in their walls, the shingles on the roof, or the brake pads of their car: asbestos. Asbestos is a natural fiber that has been mined for decades because of its fire resistant properties. When disturbed, we can inhale these fibers and then they stick to the linings of our organs. Because they’re so durable, our bodies can’t break them down and get rid of the foreign toxin. Instead, anywhere from 10-50 years later, the symptoms of Mesothelioma might start to show.

Mesothelioma, a rare cancer, is known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. The cancer can develop in the lining of the abdomen, chest, or lungs. Pleural mesothelioma, or the type that develops in the lungs, is the most common resulting in 80% of cases. Regardless of the type, patients typically see nonspecific symptoms at first. The earlier symptoms of mesothelioma can include shortness of breath, chest pain, or lack of appetite. This leads to many believing they have the flu or another common, less serious ailment. Being aware of potential asbestos exposure is essential for an early diagnosis. It’s important to also remember secondhand exposure as a serious risk, if any loved ones have worked with asbestos. Though there are only 3,000 cases diagnosed each year, it’s estimated that 20 million people are at risk of developing this cancer and another 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos in their workplaces each year.

Since this disease is so difficult to diagnose, it can sometimes take months for an official diagnosis to be made. In most cases, the disease has already progressed to a later, harder to treat stage. As such, the prognosis for mesothelioma patients is generally very poor. . Recently, there have been great strides made in developing better mesothelioma treatment methods and diagnostic techniques. Immunotherapy, for example, has shown promise for mesothelioma patients in a variety of clinical trials. Initiatives like the Cancer Moonshot 2020, a collaboration like no other to cure cancer, and Microsoft’s Project Hanover, which seeks to use artificial intelligence to solve cancer, also bring hope to patients for the future.

Though a cure for mesothelioma  is still likely a ways off, there are steps we can take to help eliminate and prevent further mesothelioma cases. Asbestos is still not banned in the United States, even though 52 other countries have banned the toxin because of its health risks. Recent progress, however, gives hope for a future ban. Over the summer, the Frank R. Lautenberg Act was passed to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act, which allowed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate existing chemicals for environmental and public health risks. On November 29th, their list of the first ten chemicals they will investigate included asbestos. Though this news doesn’t promise a ban on asbestos anytime soon, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

In the meantime, the best prevention is to continue raising awareness on the dangers of asbestos and educating loved ones. Together our voices can help make a difference in banning asbestos and saving millions of lives!

The Latest on Colon Cancer Screening: What You Need to Know

Even though no one likes to talk about having a colonoscopy, a colonoscopy can you’re your life!  Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, but colon cancer can actually be prevented through screening tests.  When a colonoscopy is performed, and a polyp is found, it can be removed, before it becomes cancer.  That’s why it is imperative that people learn about the different types of screening tests offered.

Last week, the U.S. Preventative Service Task Force (USPSTF) – an independent panel of medical experts – said the benefits of being screened between the ages of 50-75 (the Triage Cancer Blog USPSTFyears of average risk of colon cancer) are “substantial.” Previously, the colon cancer screening tests that were available included the colonoscopy, the sigmoidoscopy, and two types of home stool tests, the gFOBT and the FIT.

Recently, the USPSTF added two new, less-invasive, ways of testing to the list of colon cancer screenings that may qualify for free preventative screening:

  • A virtual colonoscopy that uses unique X-ray machines to examine the colon.
  • An at home test called the Cologuard, which checks stool samples for elevated levels of altered DNA that could be a sign of cancer. This test typically costs $650.

The USPSTF does not have a favorite test; each one has been found to be equally beneficial to the patient. Because of the USPSTF’s “A” rating of these tests, they must be offered to most privately insured patients without a copayment, cost-share, or applying it to their deductible under the rules of the Affordable Care Act.

Unfortunately, insurance coverage of these tests isn’t always straightforward.  Medicare already covers Cologuard as a preventive screening tool; however, many private insurers have not been covering it for free. There is some ambiguity with the wording of the new rules and advocates in the healthcare community are seeking guidance from the Obama Administration.

Although preventative screening is covered at 100%, without copayments or deductibles, some patients may still end up with a bill. For example, while most private insurers cannot charge patients for polyp removal under the ACA, Medicare will impose a 20% copayment if a polyp is found during a screening colonoscopy and removed. Another way patients can be hit with unexpected bills is if a stool test, sigmoidoscopy, or other exam indicates cancer might exist and then a colonoscopy is performed.  Many insurers would then consider the colonoscopy a diagnostic exam, rather than a preventive screening, and charge the patient.

Stay tuned for more developments on insurance coverage for these news tests and other ACA updates!

For more information about colorectal cancer, visit:

http://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal
http://nccrt.org/

April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month

Testicular Cancer FoundationThe National Cancer Institute estimated 8,820 new cases of testicular cancer for 2014, the most common cancer in males age 15-35. It is not all doom and gloom, however. Testicular cancer is one of the most treatable cancers, especially if caught early. Be proactive! Men should perform monthly self-exams to check themselves. There are many videos on YouTube and other websites demonstrating how males can “Check ‘Em”. Testicular Cancer Foundation has a simple 3 step self-exam on its website, and they even offer to mail you a Shower Card that includes the self-exam instructions and information. They created the Shower Card to help parents deal with the awkwardness in talking with their sons. If a man finds any bumps or changes to his testicles, he should make an appointment with an urologist ASAP.

If a testicular cancer diagnosis is made, there are a few types of treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. All of these treatments can affect the reproductive system and may decrease fertility or cause infertility.

Sperm banking

It is important for medical staff to discuss fertility preservation and sperm banking with patients at the time of diagnosis. Sperm banking is a simple way to preserve fertility, with a generally high success rate. Specimens are collected through masturbation. Multiple collections (2-3) with 48 hour abstinence between collections is the ideal. It is best to collect before treatment begins. However, pregnancies have occurred from as little as one specimen and viable samples may be collected after some treatments have begun. Almost every fertility clinic has the ability to bank sperm, and some offer discounts for cancer patients. The costs for sperm freezing vary depending on the number of specimens banked and the charges for the blood tests (most blood tests can be done by the oncology team as part of the patient’s treatment), but generally can be completed for less than $1000. Storage fees also vary, between $275-500 annually, but there are financial assistance programs available. You can search for a sperm bank in your area on ReproTech’s website.

Mail-in kits

For men who are unable to travel to a facility to bank sperm, whether due to illness or location, mail-in kits are available. ReproTech’s OverNite Male™ Kit is the original mail-in kit, and it remains the most economical. The cost of the kit, shipping and the first year of storage is $575 and financial assistance is available.

Financial Assistance

There are organizations that will provide financial assistance for sperm banking/fertility preservation services, but fertility clinics that participate in LIVESTRONG’s Fertility Discount Program are a good bet. Some clinics may not participate in LIVESTRONG’s program, but they MAY offer their own discounts to cancer patients – be sure to ask!

A Guide to Cancer Prevention

Doctor

It is predicted that by 2030, cancer will surpass heart disease as the leading cause of death for Americans.

Ever wonder about the things you could do to potentially prevent cancer?

Check out this video from PublicHealth.org: http://www.publichealth.org/public-awareness/cancer/

PublicHealth.org is dedicated to connecting patients, students and professionals to the latest and most useful healthcare information and resources available. The site offers a comprehensive look into the expanding field of public health, the latest in health policy updates and recommendations and information on launching a career in public health.

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