Emily Walsh, Director of Community Outreach at Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, considers the devastating impact of mesothelioma and why its annual awareness day is so vital.

Mesothelioma Awareness Day was on 26 September. For those impacted by the disease, the day is intended to educate the public about this rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. So, what should you know about mesothelioma and asbestos exposure?

Mesothelioma has a long latency period, so it may take anywhere from 20-50 years for someone who has been exposed to asbestos to begin showing signs of the disease. The life expectancy of someone with mesothelioma is also very low, though it is dependent on the stage of the cancer and the patient’s overall health. On average, 40 percent of people live past one year and only nine percent live longer than five years.

Looking at the numbers can be frightening, but the most frustrating part about mesothelioma is that it is completely preventable. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma.

While the mineral is relatively safe when left undisturbed, if materials containing asbestos become damaged or broken someone can breathe in the tiny fibers which can cause a number of deadly diseases. In all, there are around 10,000 deaths from asbestos-related diseases a year, including asbestosis, and mesothelioma.

Asbestos is typically found in older buildings, schools and other public buildings. If you are in an older building, there are some places you should avoid that commonly contain asbestos. The most common places are in ceiling tiles, insulation, caulking, and surrounding pipes or ventilation systems.

Asbestos can have many different forms, for example, vermiculite asbestos can sometimes look like popcorn, and other times it can look like attic insulation, thick and fuzzy.

Although a majority of workers will not find themselves at a high risk of asbestos exposure, there are several occupations that present employees with a much higher risk of contact. This includes carpenters, who may disrupt dormant asbestos while remodeling or working on building projects.

Military workers, who could be exposed on naval ships, or maintaining aircrafts. Firefighters are also at high-risk when they are entering burning buildings that could contain asbestos.

Mesothelioma Awareness Day is meant to raise awareness for this deadly disease, and to honor all those who have been affected. Dozens of countries have already fully banned the use of asbestos. Hopefully others will follow suit, and mesothelioma will become a thing of the past!