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What the Veterans’ Cancer Registry Reveals About Mesothelioma

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Doctors still have much to learn about mesothelioma and how best to treat patients diagnosed with this aggressive cancer linked with asbestos exposure.

To better understand the causes and consequences of mesothelioma, researchers from Creighton University School of Medicine and the Thomas Jefferson School of Medicine in Philadelphia retrospectively reviewed the medical records of 924 veterans diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma between 1995 and 2009 and listed in the Veterans Affairs Cancer Registry.

The median age of the veterans with malignant pleural mesothelioma was 71, according to the researchers who presented their findings at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference June 3-7 in Chicago. The median age of the veterans with mesothelioma is a reminder of the typical 20-year to 50-year delay between exposure to asbestos and appearance of asbestos disease symptoms. Many veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard likely were exposed to asbestos in their 20s and 30s, but didn’t notice any respiratory symptoms for decades.

From the 1940 through the 1970s, millions of veterans were exposed to asbestos which was widely used in building materials, automotive parts, ships and insulation. The use of asbestos was restricted starting in the late 1970s because of its toxicity to humans. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans who served in shipyards, mining, insulation work, carpentry and construction, demolition of old buildings, and the manufacture of friction products such as brakes were most likely exposed to asbestos.

In the new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the researchers reported that the median survival for the veterans with mesothelioma was seven months.  Veterans who had malignant mesothelioma that had not spread and underwent surgery or surgery combined with chemotherapy or radiation tended to live longer.

Nearly 90 percent of veterans diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma were Caucasian and about 9 percent were African American.

In the analysis, some factors observed among the veterans correlated with longer survival including younger age, diagnosis of early stage cancer, the type of cellular structure of the mesothelioma and receipt of surgery.

Approximately, 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the U.S. each year. Most are workers and veterans who were exposed to asbestos for an extended period on the job decades ago.

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Last Modified: November 26, 2018

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