Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the mesothelial cells of the human body. These cells form the mesothelium, the protective layers around the lungs, heart, and stomach that cushion the organs, prevent friction, and allow for free movement.
When a tumor forms in the mesothelium, it may be either benign or malignant. Malignant tumors are cancer-causing, and while these types of tumors were once relatively rare, about 2000 new cases of malignant mesothelioma are currently being diagnosed in the United States each year.
Exposure to asbestos dust is the main cause of mesothelioma, and millions of workers in the U.S., including South Dakota, have been exposed to asbestos dust since the 1940s. The recent increase of mesothelioma is thought to be the result of the slow incubation period of this type of cancer, which may manifest itself approximately 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. Those currently suffering from malignant mesothelioma are thought to have been exposed to asbestos during the 1960s and 1970s, before the hazards of asbestos were known. Those who worked in the shipbuilding, mining, and construction industries are considered to be the most at-risk.
Mesothelioma is considered a deadly form of cancer because most people who are diagnosed with the disease die within two years. Those who have worked around asbestos are encouraged to seek the advice of a physician, since early diagnosis may slow or even stop the spread of mesothelioma. Some common treatments for mesothelioma include surgery to remove the affected area, radiation, and chemotherapy.
According to Mesothelioma.com, three of South Dakota's naturally-occurring asbestos deposits are found in Custer State Park. Two of these are sources of amphiboles, the needle-like fibers associated with the development of mesothelioma. A third amphibole deposit has been found near Jewell Cave National Monument, and a number of serpentine deposits have been found directly north of this location.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) recommends certain practices to reduce the likelihood of asbestos exposure at home:
Shower and change clothes before you leave work
Wash hands and face regularly, especially before meals
Regularly clean up dust and soil brought into the home
Use door mats to catch soil from shoes and remove shoes before entering the house so as not to track dirt possibly containing fibers into the house
People from Rhode Island who are suffering from mesothelioma have the option of filing a lawsuit against their employers to compensate them for their medical expenses, pain and suffering due to the disease.