Mesothelioma and Asbestos in the Navy
Though rates of mesothelioma diagnoses in Navy veterans are increasing, treatment developments are increasing as well. Today, there are many treatment options and support systems available for Navy veterans with mesothelioma. More veterans are now able to extend their life expectancy and improve their quality of life despite their diagnosis.
Asbestos Exposure in the Navy
Over 300 asbestos products were installed in early Navy ships. Asbestos was used in the engine and boiler rooms and as coatings to wires, pipes and even ropes. The amount of heat generated in engine and boiler rooms made asbestos the prime choice as an insulating and fireproofing material. It was plentiful and low in cost. Before the late 1970s, the long-term health hazards were little known except by asbestos product manufacturers.
Navy sailors were exposed to asbestos in every part of the ship, including around their bunks. Personnel in confined spaces received the highest asbestos exposure. Most enclosed areas had little ventilation. This trapped airborne asbestos particles, leaving Navy veterans susceptible to inhaling and ingesting the fibers. Even above-deck service people had dangerous asbestos exposure during meal, relaxation and resting times.
Asbestos was also widely used on naval shore facilities. It was found in flooring, tiles, insulation and concrete foundations. Shipyards were contaminated from asbestos due to airborne dust from grinding and painting. Navy shore workers were also exposed during refits when asbestos dust conditions were extreme.
The Navy jobs with the highest risks of asbestos exposure include:
- Boiler Technician
- Hull Technician/Welder
- Machinist Mate
- Electricians Mate
- Damage Controlman
- Machinery Repairman
- Gunners Mate
- Boatswains Mate
- Aviation Machinist Mate
- Aviation Boatswains Mate
Asbestos was gradually phased out of Navy use when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began implementing and enforcing strict asbestos safety standards. By 1980, asbestos was generally controlled. Therefore, veterans who joined after that time were at a lesser risk of exposure than earlier veterans.
Mesothelioma Treatments for Navy Veterans
The direct cause of mesothelioma in Navy veterans was asbestos exposure. When inhaled or ingested, microscopic asbestos fibers became stuck inside their lung and abdominal linings. The fibers cause irritation and scarring for over a 20 to 40 year period. This triggers the development of mesothelioma cancer.
The primary medical treatments for mesothelioma are:
- Surgical removal of mesothelioma tumors
- Chemotherapy drugs that attack fast-growing mesothelioma cells
- Radiation exposure to kill mesothelioma cells and shrink tumors
A multimodal approach is often taken. This includes a combination of all three conventional treatments. Some experimental treatments are also being tested in clinical trials and show promising results.
These new treatment methods include:
- Immunotherapy that enhances the body’s immune system
- Gene therapy that works with DNA to overwrite genetic problems
- Photodynamic therapy that involves light and photosensitizing drugs
Early and correct diagnosis of mesothelioma is critical for extending life expectancy. Because mesothelioma in Navy veterans has recently become a prominent medical issue, options for treatment and medical support continue to grow.
Mesothelioma Support for Navy Veterans
The risks of long-term asbestos exposure were not well known by the U.S. Navy when asbestos was installed. There were some health reports circulating, but asbestos manufacturers conspired to keep the dangers a secret. Legal precedent has established that manufacturing companies are responsible for this health tragedy, not the U.S. Navy.
In response to increasing concerns regarding asbestos health risks, the Navy established the Asbestos Medical Surveillance Program. This is a medical program that monitors the health of Navy veterans exposed to asbestos during duty.
Government compensation for mesothelioma is available for Navy veterans. Those exposed to asbestos who developed an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma may be eligible for Service Connected (SC) compensation benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).
Ask your doctor for a referral to a VA mesothelioma treatment center. You will be able to get the treatment and support you need to extend your life expectancy and improve your quality of life.