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Screening for asbestos-related diseases could save your life

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on April 02nd, 2020

Ongoing inhalation of asbestos fibers with microscopic diameters will result in an increased fiber burden in the lungs, thereby increasing the risk of asbestos-related illness. The criteria used for the diagnosis of asbestos-related diseases are based on clinical and radiologic features.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous-type silicate particle with remarkable durability and resistance to chemicals, heat, and fire properties conferring value in a wide variety of commercial and industrial products. The mineral has been designated as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There is no safe level of exposure to a carcinogen and the risk of disease will only lessen - not disappear - as exposure lessens.

How you were exposed to asbestos

Occupational diseases related to exposure to all forms of asbestos remains a threat to the health of people in the U.S. Millions of people who worked in construction, maintenance, heavy industry, were in contact with extremely high concentrations of asbestos prior to the implementation of asbestos regulation and improved measures.

Although asbestos is currently used less frequently than years ago, the U.S. still allows for asbestos to be contained at levels of one percent or less in products, whereas other countries have banned it altogether. The Environmental Protection Agency recently enacted a rule making it easier for companies to use asbestos in certain products, including car and motorcycle brakes, fireproof clothing and building materials other than cement.

There is a large range of high-risk occupation and industries including:

Screening procedures for asbestos-related diseases

An asbestos screening is a medical evaluation performed by a physician with expertise in the evaluation and management of asbestos-related lung diseases. Screening should be considered for patients who are now or have been in the past workers involved in:

  • Mining of asbestos or other minerals contaminated with asbestos such as talc and vermiculite;
  • Manufacturing of asbestos-containing products;
  • Maintenance and repair activities involving direct contact with asbestos-containing products;
  • Asbesos waste and disposal.

Each screening involves a brief physical examination based on the reported symptoms and a review of the individual's medical history and employment history concerning exposure to asbestos on the job.

During your medical evaluation, it is advisable to discuss with your physician about:

  • Any direct contact with asbestos;
  • Age at first exposure and roughly the number of years that have gone from first exposure;
  • All circumstances, duration and intensity under which the exposure occurred;
  • Job history and other potential points of exposure in order to prove the source of asbestos exposure.

You will normally be referred to a specialist at a hospital and further tests may be carried out such as pulmonary function tests, bronchoscopy, bronchoalveolar lavage, biopsy. It may also include a spirometry test that measures lung capacity and function. High-resolution computed tomography is recommended only if findings of uncertain significance are found on chest X-ray.

Lack of perceivable symptoms in the early stages of an asbestos-related illness contributes to tardy diagnosis which is why asbestos screening is essential.

Chest X-ray - the most common test used to screen asbestos-exposed individuals

A chest X-ray is recommended for detecting asbestos-related effects produced by long-term exposure at relatively high concentrations of asbestos fibers. The radiographic appearance of asbestos exposure is typically not present until at least 5 years after the first exposure. In addition to clinical evaluation, the help of a B-reader - a physician trained and certified in asbestos-related lung X-rays, by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is recommended for a radiographic rating of lung changes.

The B-reader will look for:

  • High levels of fibrosis: thickening, stiffening, and scarring of the lung tissue
  • Pleural changes: benign pleura; diffuse pleural thickening and possible calcifications within pleural plaques
  • Interstitial changes: linear, irregular radiographic opacities in the lower lung field. More specifically, these opacities consist of shadows that develop in the lung parenchyma and obscure normal broncho vascular markings. For example, the chest X-ray of a patient diagnosed with interstitial lung disease consistent with asbestosis shows interstitial opacities on both mid and lower lung fields.

Repeated screening is recommended for anyone who has been exposed to asbestos

Even if the chest X-ray is normal but you have an occupational history that suggests asbestos exposure, repeat the test in subsequent years as needed. Sometimes, the radiologist will make a comparison with previous radiographs. If so, asbestos screening also establishes a baseline for your individual lung function, so if you experience symptoms later, your doctor can compare your previous results for a clear understanding of how your health has changed.

Early detection of non-malignant lung abnormalities is also an important screening outcome, allowing for early interventions, lifestyle changes, and ongoing monitoring. Being screened at regular intervals is important for your overall health.

To make sure that your case matches the eligibility requirements for compensation benefits, the diagnosis requires confirmation by further testing.

Pathology and diagnostic imaging reports are often the only medical documentation required in order to advance a claim for compensation

Veterans who wish to access a free confirmatory asbestos screening procedure can travel to Birmingham for specialized tests which may involve pulmonary function tests, X-rays, and CT scans. In the regrettable event you suffer from a disease associated with long-term exposure to asbestos, Environmental Litigation Group will also be able to help you recover financial compensation from both asbestos trust fund claims and the VA. We can assist you every step of the way and help you with all necessary forms, information on asbestos-related conditions and more.