Mesothelioma is a rare illness that affects an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 individuals in the United States yearly.
Of this number, there are likely individuals who are active in sports with a high risk of having this disease.
Asbestos exposure is closely linked to mesothelioma. While occupations like mining, plumbing, and shipbuilding have a higher risk of being exposed to this material, sports athletes can still potentially contract mesothelioma.
Visit the Mesothelioma Group’s website to learn about the stages of mesothelioma and the treatment options for this disease’s symptoms.
How can mesothelioma affect high-performance athletes? What symptoms manifest among athletes who have this disease?
This article explores how super athletes can acquire mesothelioma and the symptoms that can occur among these athletes.
How Do Athletes Get Mesothelioma?
Anyone can get mesothelioma, but some athletes, even those at their peak performance, are more at risk of contracting the disease if they fall under one or more of the following conditions:
● Asbestos exposure: Asbestos is a primary mesothelioma risk factor and accounts for up to 80% of all cases.
Paul Gleason, a former professional baseball player for the Cleveland Indians and actor who played in popular films like Die Hard, Trading Places, and The Breakfast Club, got exposed to asbestos from working in construction sites as a teenager.
The exposure to the material caused him to develop mesothelioma that claimed his life in 2006 at the age of 67.
● Living with someone working with asbestos: Asbestos dust can travel on clothing and skin, so living in the same house with a person working in an industry involved in asbestos can increase the athlete’s risk of developing mesothelioma.
Terry McCann, a wrestler and gold medalist in the 1960 Olympics, reportedly acquired mesothelioma by carrying home asbestos dust that stuck on his hair and clothes after working in an oil refinery that used asbestos fibers.
Jobs with a high risk for asbestos exposure include but aren’t limited to:
○ Asbestos miners
○ Home remodelers
○ Select military personnel
○ Shipyard workers
● Family history of mesothelioma: Having family members who had cancer or mesothelioma can increase an athlete’s risk of developing the disease.
One study showed that relatives of mesothelioma patients have an increased risk of developing this malignant disease.
Specifically, those with asbestos-related work and mesothelioma history in their first-degree relatives have a significant increase in cancer risk compared to people without such occupations and family history.
These findings suggest that athletes, especially those with a history of working with asbestos, can also acquire mesothelioma through their close relatives.
About 1% of individuals with mesothelioma have inherited the disease, usually by having the parent pass it to their child within the family. This situation is likely due to a mutation of the BAP1 gene.
The BAP1 gene provides instructions for making specific proteins within the body and regulates protein function in various cellular processes.
● Radiation exposure: Asbestos isn’t the only factor that can lead to mesothelioma. Radioactive substances like thorium dioxide used with X-rays for diagnosing health conditions can increase the risk of developing the condition.
So if you receive radiation exposure, such as when you undergo radiation therapy for lymphoma, you can be at a higher risk for mesothelioma.
What Is Mesothelioma and Its Symptoms?
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that develops in the mesothelium, the tissue making up the lining that protects and surrounds various internal organs.
There are different ways to categorize mesothelioma. One method is to determine whether the tumor is malignant (cancerous) or benign (not cancerous).
Another way to describe mesothelioma is to determine where cancer occurs:
● Pleural mesothelioma: Affects the tissue around the lungs. Symptoms include painful coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pains.
● Peritoneal mesothelioma: Occurs in the abdominal tissue. Signs and symptoms include nausea, abdominal swelling and pain, and unexplained weight loss.
● Pericardial mesothelioma: Happens in the tissue surrounding the heart and causes chest pains and breathing difficulties.
● Mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis: Affects the tissue around the testicles. This disease can manifest as a testicular mass or swelling.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) mentioned that the five-year survival rate for individuals with mesothelioma is 10%, especially when the condition is diagnosed at a late stage.
The survival rate increases to about 18% if the individual gets diagnosed early and the cancer is still in its initial, localized stage.
But if the disease spreads to nearby areas or the lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate decreases to 12%. Once mesothelioma spreads to distant body parts, the survival rate becomes 7%.
The cancer stage isn’t the only factor determining a person’s survival rate after being diagnosed with the disease. Age also plays an essential role in the individual’s survival.
Younger people diagnosed with the disease often live longer. Additionally, individuals who receive surgery during this cancer’s early stage usually live longer than those whose cancer has already spread too far.
Despite mesothelioma’s unfavorable prognosis, it’s easily preventable as long as individuals, especially athletes who worked or are still working in asbestos-related industries, follow safety procedures at work.
You should take a shower and change your work clothes before eating lunch or going home. This way, you minimize or prevent inhaling or swallowing asbestos fibers.
If your home contains asbestos in its walls or insulation, it’s best to leave them intact instead of removing them. If you’re unsure if your home has asbestos, consult an expert who can test the air and determine if your residence has asbestos exposure risk.
Scientists continue to conduct medical research to find ways to improve cancer prevention and treatment.
You can contribute to mesothelioma prevention and treatment and support mesothelioma patients by donating to organizations like the American Lung Association or the American Cancer Society.