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Making Mesothelioma Tests Part of National Women’s Checkup Day

MHN_Womens_Health_Day

Whether it’s taking the kids in for vaccinations, elderly parents for specialized care, or a spouse for a chronic health issue, some women spend quite a bit of time at the doctor’s office. But despite this reality, sometimes they put off making appointments for themselves.

As the HHS Office on Women’s Health explains, it’s vital to have regular checkups to maintain health, especially as a woman ages. The agency notes that scientists continue to find new ways to screen for and treat major diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Annual checkups can spot developing diseases in the early stages — before the problem becomes more serious and advanced. Catching a cancer like mesothelioma sooner rather than later may result in the use more effective treatment options and a better outlook.

Women and Mesothelioma

According to the National Cancer Institute, “Malignant mesothelioma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells are found in the pleura (the thin layer of tissue that lines the chest cavity and covers the lungs) or the peritoneum (the thin layer of tissue that lines the abdomen and covers most of the organs in the abdomen).” The disease may also strike the heart, though this is more rare.

People with mesothelioma have worked or lived in places where they inhaled or swallowed asbestos. It can take a long time for these cancer cells to develop; the latency period can be 20 to 50 years. So even if it’s been decades since you were exposed, you might still be at risk for mesothelioma.

Men tend to have a higher rate of this cancer because of occupational hazards associated with industries such as auto repair, plumbing, welding, and firefighting, which traditionally employ more men than women.

But women are also susceptible to mesothelioma. One reason is because living with a person who works near asbestos is a major risk factor. Just like secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer, secondhand asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma. One common way this can happen is when family members are exposed to asbestos fibers — often appearing as dust — brought home on a family member’s work clothes. For example, if your husband’s work environment contained asbestos, and you washed his dusty clothes, you may have been exposed too.

Exposure can also from simply living in an older house with a significant amount of asbestos in materials such as siding, insulation, window putty, paint, outlets, and floor tiles.

Knowing the Signs

Unlike mammograms or pap smears, mesothelioma tests are not on the list of standard screenings for your yearly checkup. However, it’s important to ask for testing if you’re showing any signs of the disease.

Symptoms vary depending on where mesothelioma occurs in the body, reports the Mayo Clinic. For example, pleural mesothelioma, which is in tissue around the lungs, may cause symptoms such as:

  • Painful coughing
  • Shortness of breath or becoming winded easily
  • Unusual lumps of tissue under the skin on the chest
  • Chest pain under the rib cage
  • Unexplained weight loss

In contrast, peritoneal mesothelioma (in the abdominal area) may produce symptoms like these:

  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Lumps of tissue in the abdomen
  • Development of a hernia
  • Chronic constipation

Although pericardial mesothelioma (in the lining around the heart) only represents 1% of all mesothelioma cases, it’s important to know the symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath or becoming winded easily
  • Heart palpitations
  • Persistent or chronic coughing

Of course, many of the above symptoms may be caused by conditions other than mesothelioma. Be sure to consult your doctor to get to the bottom of the matter. During a checkup, tell your doctor about your possible asbestos exposure, even if it’s secondhand. He or she can help you get the right tests to confirm a diagnosis and, if necessary, determine your treatment plan.

In honor of this year’s National Women’s Checkup Day, schedule an appointment for your yearly physical if you’re due for one. And don’t forget to talk with your doctor about mesothelioma if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms noted above.

National Women’s Checkup Day may not be as glamorous or well known as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, but it’s a great opportunity to give yourself the gift of better health.

Kim Neuhauser is a sponsored contributor to Mesothelioma Help Now.