Individuals who have been exposed to asbestos in Virginia should be checked periodically for asbestos-related diseases. Those who worked in the armed forces, Virginia refineries, chemical plants, auto factories and shipyards before the 1980s should tell their doctors about their potential history of asbestos exposure. Early detection is vital in many cases of asbestos-related diseases, as even lung cancers have a better prognosis when caught early.
Primarily caused by asbestos exposure, asbestosis is a scarring of the lower lobes of the lungs. Virginia workers who were employed in high-risk industries, including ship building, automotive repair and mining, should be particularly wary of developing asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases. At-risk workers in Virginia who have a history of asbestos exposure should see their doctors for periodic asbestosis screenings. To detect asbestosis, the physician will take an x-ray of the lungs, which will be read by a certified radiologist. This diagnostic tool can establish whether the individual has any lung scarring associated with asbestos exposure. Although asbestosis is not cancerous, it can become progressive and may require the patient to depend on inhalers. Patients who have been diagnosed with asbestosis should be monitored with regular x-rays and lung function tests to track the progression of the disease.
Patients with a history of asbestos exposure should be screened for lung cancer and mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the mesothelium. To check for cancers of the lungs, the doctor will listen to the patient’s breathing with a stethoscope to detect any strange noises. For instance, a doctor may hear a dull sound when tapping on the chest of a patient with fluid buildup in the lungs. When screening for lung-related cancers, the doctor may also check the patient’s legs for swelling and fingers for clubbing. These symptoms may indicate that there is a problem with the lungs.
After performing a physical exam, the doctor may order a chest x-ray to check for suspicious masses, fluid or tissue thickening. A chest x-ray of a patient with lung cancer may display abnormal fluid or masses, while an x-ray of a mesothelioma patient would show pleural thickening. Should the x-ray show any abnormalities, the patient would be sent to a specialist for further evaluation. Although an x-ray can show signs of lung cancer and mesothelioma, a diagnosis of these asbestos-related diseases can only be made through a tissue biopsy.
When visiting a doctor for a check-up, at-risk Virginia workers should be honest about their past to ensure the proper screening and diagnostic tests are utilized. The doctor will typically ask about the patient’s history of asbestos exposure and previous jobs. He or she may also inquire about the work history of the patient’s family members, as asbestos fibers could have been carried home on the clothes, skin and hair of those exposed to the mineral. Lastly, the doctor may ask whether the patient is experiencing any symptoms related to asbestos-related diseases, such as shortness of breath or coughing.
Asbestos is a mineral that was widely used due to its heat resistance and insulating properties. Individuals working with the mineral on a daily basis are particularly at-risk for developing asbestos-related illnesses, although symptoms of these diseases may not appear for several decades. Because of the latency period of asbestos-related diseases, individuals who worked in the armed forces, Virginia shipyards, oil refineries, steel mills, railroads or power plants should see their doctor for a check-up.