South Oxhey, UK—After a career spent mixing asbestos for use in construction, a South Oxhey man has died of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma.
Thomas Price was first exposed to the toxic building material when he was an engineer in the Navy, in the 1940s. Mesothelioma is an unusual cancer because it can take several decades to become symptomatic. Additionally, the symptoms of mesothelioma are often so similar to those of other respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis, emphysema or even just the common cold, that many sufferers do not suspect that they actually have cancer, and therefore do not seek medical treatment. For these reasons, mesothelioma is usually diagnosed only in its later stages, when it is too far advanced to be successfully treated with surgery.
Almost all cases of mesothelioma can be directly traced back to asbestos exposure, either occupational or secondhand. When asbestos-containing materials break down, they can release into the environment a dust composed of microscopic, needle-like fibers. After being inhaled, these embed themselves into the lining of the lungs and chest cavity called the mesothelium, where they can turn malignant over time. Asbestos fibers cannot be breathed out or otherwise expelled from the body. Although most experts agree that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure, the risk of mesothelioma does increase with prolonged or repeated exposure, such as that which Price experienced during his stint in the Navy.
After losing weight and finding his health decline earlier in the summer, Price began receiving medical treatment in August. He was admitted to the hospital in late October, presenting with breathlessness and confusion, and began receiving palliative care. He died on November 1, 2009.
Some patients may benefit from receiving chemotherapy and radiation as treatment, but others—especially those whose mesothelioma is quite advanced—opt not to pursue these approaches, as they fear that the side effects will outweigh the benefits. Mesothelioma has a grim prognosis; most patients die within a few months of learning that they have this cancer, and fewer than 10 percent make it past the two-year mark.