Veterans who served their country may be at a high risk of developing mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. U.S. veterans who served in any branch of the military should become familiar with symptoms and undergo mesothelioma screening so doctors can catch the disease early on.
Veterans who were exposed to asbestos during their military service must make their doctors aware of their exposure history during all routine visits. Even veterans who are unsure of their asbestos exposure should disclose their service history and remind their doctors at regular intervals that they are in a high-risk group of patients.
Why Mesothelioma Screening Is Important
Mesothelioma specialists and cancer researchers have identified high-risk groups of people who should undergo routine mesothelioma screening and other asbestos-related diseases. Veterans are one of these high-risk groups due to the high number of mesothelioma cases attributed to current and former military personnel.
Mesothelioma has no cure. It’s an aggressive disease that is typically detected in its latest stages when it’s most challenging to treat. But patients who catch their cancer early have a much better prognosis and a higher quality of life.
Early detection of mesothelioma gives patients the best opportunity to remove cancer cells and slow future cell growth while saving vital organs and tissues. In some cases, veterans who catch their mesothelioma in its earlier stages can live happy, stable lives for many years.
Who Should Get Screened for Mesothelioma?
All veterans should undergo mesothelioma screening regardless of when they served because asbestos exposure is an ongoing issue.
Asbestos is heavily present in many military buildings and vehicles, and many vets who served in the recent Afghanistan and Iraq wars were exposed to asbestos through demolished buildings and open burn pits. American veterans who haven’t been screened for asbestos disease or cancer should schedule an appointment with their doctor immediately.
Veterans should also monitor their health and tell their doctor if any of the following health changes occur:
- Respiratory—persistent cough, difficulty breathing, chest pain
- Cardiovascular—heart palpitations, chest pain, dry cough
- Digestive—abominal pain, gas and cramping and anemia
- Testicular—swollen, painful testicle or tissue buildup in one testicle
While respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive or testicular issues are the primary symptoms, additional rare symptoms can be the first sign of mesothelioma, such as night sweats or shoulder pain. Therefore, veterans should fully disclose and investigate any changes to their health, regardless of how unrelated they may seem.
The VA also recommends veterans who worked in specific jobs to get screened regularly, as certain occupations have been linked to a higher risk of developing mesothelioma. These jobs include:
Even veterans who worked in other jobs should undergo routine screening for mesothelioma, cancer and other health risks. Veterans should also get screened if they suspect any notable changes to their health.
How to Get Screened for Mesothelioma and Cancer
Vets who are concerned about changes to their health or worried about their risk of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma should make an appointment with their doctor to review their health and exposure history.
However, it’s important to note that mesothelioma is a relatively new and unknown cancer that many family doctors are not fully experienced with. Veterans who suspect they have mesothelioma may need to advocate for their health and request specialized testing and support.
Typically, veterans who present symptoms of mesothelioma are referred to a specialist who is better equipped to identify and diagnose any problems. For example, veterans with respiratory symptoms may be referred to a pulmonologist or undergo imaging tests as the next step in mesothelioma screening.
Veterans may also contact their local VA Environmental Health Coordinator who can provide more information about military asbestos exposure and connect veterans with healthcare providers. Environmental Health Coordinators are available in every state and can be reached by email or phone.
VA Compensation Benefits for Mesothelioma
The VA compensates veterans who developed mesothelioma due to their military service. This compensation can help ease the burden of medical bills and help provide a higher quality of life for the veteran and their family members.
If you have received a diagnosis of mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, you may be eligible to file for VA compensation if you were exposed to asbestos during your military service. Contact Mesothelioma Veterans Center for help filing a claim.