Mesothelioma Claims the Life of Army Veteran

Morris, IL—A veteran of the United States Army, who likely was exposed to asbestos while serving his country, has died from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma.

James R. Walton, 80, served in the Army and then went on to attend engineering school. He worked at Aurora Caterpillar Tractor Company and the Joliet Arsenal, as well as at the Morris Hospital. Walton may also have been exposed to asbestos at any point during his career, however, since the mineral material was so widely used throughout most of the 20th Century as an insulating and building material. Asbestos could be found in drywall, ceiling and floor tiles, pipe insulation, boilers, shingles, plumbing, and many other products. It was also used in automobile applications such as brakes and clutches, as well as in shipbuilding. Once prized for its lightweight nature, strength, durability and resistance to fire and high temperatures, asbestos later became notorious as a toxin and carcinogen.

Inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers can lead to the rare cancer mesothelioma, which occurs when those fibers penetrate the mesothelium—a sheath surrounding and protecting the lungs and other internal organs—and cause the cells thereof to become malignant. Striking only about 3,000 new patients each year in the United States, mesothelioma is an unusual cancer for several reasons. It may remain in the body, undetected, for anywhere from 10 to 50 years. When it is diagnosed, it has usually already reached an advanced stage, and is therefore not often treatable.

Traditional cancer treatments may be used in cases of mesothelioma that are caught earlier, before the disease has metastasized throughout the body. In some cases, surgery is possible, but that is not usually feasible. Chemotherapy and radiation are sometimes employed to attempt to shrink the tumor and stop its spread, but these are less effective for mesothelioma than they are for other cancers, and they also tend to cause painful or debilitating side effects. Many mesothelioma patients are too weak to undergo these treatments, therefore, and opt only to pursue pain management methods.

The average life expectancy for a person diagnosed with mesothelioma is only 4 to 18 months. Fewer than 10 percent live as long as two years after diagnosis.