The latest asbestos news from U.S. Senator Patty Murray

February 27, 2007

This week, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) will re-launch her 5-year effort to ban asbestos and protect American workers and their families. On Thursday, March 1st, Senator Murray will re-introduce her landmark bill and will also hold a Senate hearing on her bill.

On Thursday, Senator Murray will re-introduce her bill to ban the production and importation of asbestos in the U.S. and provide for increased public education, research and treatment.

As Chair of the Senate HELP Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, Murray will hear testimony on the need to ban asbestos and the deadly consequences of asbestos exposure for workers and their families.

The hearing is titled: “Asbestos: Still Lethal/Still Legal – The Need to Better Protect the Health of American Workers and Their Families.”

The hearing will take place in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 10:00 am EST in Senate Dirksen Room 430.

You may be able to hear the audio live on Thursday at 10 am EST by visiting – http://www.capitolhearings.org and selecting “Dirksen 430” from the list of hearing rooms on

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Orange County Register writes up mesotheliom fundraiser

February 27, 2007

Thursday, February 15, 2007
Benefit raises $250,000
Chris Botti and his band take the stage for mesothelioma research.
By BARBARA POTTER
Orange County Register

Twenty-six years ago actor and Hollywood legend Steve McQueen died from exposure to asbestos.

Each year up to 3,000 patients in the United States are diagnosed with the same form of aggressive cancer – mesothelioma. This slow growing cancer is linked to asbestos, a natural fiber that was once used in manufacturing industrial and household products. Medical studies show that men in their mid-60s are most often affected, but women have also been diagnosed with the disease.

For McQueen, it was contracted from his years stripping asbestos off hot pipes on U.S. Navy ships and from the flame retardant race car driver suits that he wore.

To raise funds for research for this rare cancer, Roger and Ann Worthington held an asbestos cancer benefit featuring Grammy-award winner and jazz musician Chris Botti. The event was held at the Worthington’s beautiful Capistrano Beach home on Feb. 10. Barbara McQueen, wife of Steve McQueen, also made an appearance and autographed copies of her book, “Steve McQueen: The Last Mile,” a publication of never before seen photos she took of Steve more than 25 years ago.

Roger Worthington, Barbara McQueen and Chris Botti also have in common that all three are from the same small community of Corvallis, Oregon.

Also gracing the stage was Jordan Zevon, a singer and songwriter, and Floyd Landis, winner of the 2006 Tour de France, who raised his voice for the need to end asbestos-related cancer.

“It was a smashing success. People had a whole lot of fun and it was great to have some of the best jazz artists performing in our front yard,” Roger Worthington said.

By Monday evening, he said he had received many “hugs and kisses” via e-mail, thanking the couple for a wonderful evening.

More than $250,000 was raised at the event, which will go to the Punch Worthington Research Lab at the Pacific Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for research projects in finding a cure for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Roger Worthington’s father, David “Punch” Worthington died from asbestos poisoning on Aug. 25, 2006. In August 2002, Warren Zevon, an acclaimed folk musician and father of Jordan Zevon, also died of the disease. Jordan, sang his father’s classic song, “Werewolves of London,” at the benefit. Chris Botti’s drummer Billy Kilson also performed – his mother recently died from mesothelioma.

For the past 18 years Roger Worthington, an attorney, has taken on his clients’ cause. In 1999, he founded The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation to advance funding and research toward finding a cure.

“A lot of passion comes from personal experience,” he said.

Worthington has helped more than 400 clients over the years in asbestos-related cases.

“We’re very aggressive and we get the highest settlements,” he said.

The Veterans Administration does not have a program to treat its patients diagnosed with mesothelioma.

“The government has not taken this (mesothelioma) seriously,” Worthington said.

Jessica Like, executive director of Pacific Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Los Angeles, said the evening was a wonderful outpouring from the more than 350 people who attended the fundraiser.

“People connected with other mesothelioma patients, survivors and their families. Doctors also got to speak with each other and with patients, too. It was a great networking experience, a total success,” she said.

Also among the guests was Sandy Hazen, whose husband Tom also died of the disease in 2000. She was instrumental in organizing the fundraiser, Worthington said.

“For eight months, my husband battled mesothelioma,” she said.

“It isn’t a blue collar disease. It doesn’t respect job titles – judges, accountants, doctors, inventors, housewives, school children have had it – it’s not a ship yard disease,” Worthington said.

Funds raised included $15,000 from the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers Union, $60,000 from the estate of David “Punch” Worthington, $50,000 from the law firm of Simon, Eddins and Greenstone, $25,000 from Roger Worthington, $10,000 from John Markovich, $10,000 from the law firm of Simmons Cooper and $5,000 from Owens-Illinois. Auction items also raised $9,000, from sculptures by Eric Peltzer and Alex Pavlenko, paintings by local artist Rick Delanty and Thomas Schmidt and photographs of Steve McQueen and limited edition copies of Barbara McQueen’s book.

Mesothelioma can take 20-40 years to develop tumors. Possible signs include shortness of breath, pain under the rib cage, pain or swelling in the abdomen, lumps in the abdomen and weight loss for no known reason. There is no cure, and treatments are limited. Until recently mesothelioma patients have lived only months after diagnosis, but advancements in research have extended some patients’ lives by three to five years.

To make a donation for mesothlioma research go to www.phlbi.org/pages/make_gift.htm

Contact the writer: bpotter@ocregister.com or 949-492-5135


The coming storm: tens of thousands will die as mesothelioma peaks

February 22, 2007

This story from the Daily Mail, one of the UK’s leading newspapers.

120,000 more to die in a decade as legacy of asbestos reaches a peak
By JENNY HOPE – More by this author » Last updated at 22:53pm on 20th February 2007

More than 120,000 people will be killed by a lung cancer timebomb caused by exposure to asbestos in the 1960s and 70s, experts have revealed. Tens of thousands of workers and their families were given a shocking warning on Tuesday that they face a painful death from the untreatable condition.

Men who worked as carpenters, laggers, electricians, ship and dockyard workers are most at risk of painful tumours, which lead to sudden death.

But scientists have also warned many women will fall victim because their homes were invaded by asbestos dust brought back on the work clothes of fathers, brothers and husbands. On Tuesday the daughter of a dockyard worker won compensation from the Ministry of Defence after contracting cancer from hugging her father. Debra Brewer suffers from the asbestos-related condition mesothelioma, and said her only possible contact with the chemical was through her father Phillip Northmore.

Professor Julian Peto, Cancer Research UK chairman of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, issued Tuesday’s stark warning saying men currently in their 60s were at the greatest risk. Carpenters who used a particular type of wood in their work, shipyard workers, metal workers and electricians are all in danger, he said. Those born between 1945 and 1950 are particularly at risk. He said an “epidemic” of mesothelioma – cancer affecting the lining of the lungs – and asbestos-related lung cancer will peak in less than 10 years, for which there is no cure.

The aggressive cancer can take up to 40 years to develop but, once diagnosed, patients are given just nine to twelve months to live. Professor Peto warned that Britain has the highest rate of the disease in the world and he estimates that 60,000 people will die from mesothelioma in the UK in addition to 30,000 who had already lost their lives. With other asbestos-related lung cancers poised to kill similar numbers, up to 150,000 are expected to lose their lives in the coming years. He said: “Mesothelioma is on a completely different scale from any other industrial cancer disease in the world.

“The highest risk group of all is carpenters. One in 10 of all carpenters in Britain born in the 1940s could be affected. “Mesothelioma has already killed twice as many people as cervical cancer. Instead of young women, those affected are elderly working class men.”

However, women and children who lived with men exposed to asbestos in the 1960s were at risk of contracting the disease from the fibres and dust brought home on work clothes. Even younger men with “office jobs” could be at risk from prolonged exposure to low levels of dust in the home, he said. All types of asbestos can cause mesothelioma if the fibres are breathed in or swallowed. Asbestos was widely used as insulating material in building, mining, energy and water supply industries, and as lagging on boilers. Some artex ceilings contain asbestos so people doing DIY on old buildings are advised to use protective clothing and masks. “It is not a trivial risk – about one in 1,000 people seem to get mesothelioma with the absence of any direct exposure,” added Professor Peto.

According to the British Lung Foundation, more than 2,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year in the UK and someone dies every five hours. The number of deaths increased from 153 in 1968 to 1,969 in 2004 and is expected to peak at 2,450 between 2011 and 2015. Since asbestos was effectively outlawed in the 80s, the number of cases in those aged under 45 has dropped three-fold while those above 85 have risen three-fold.

Professor Peto said chemotherapy and immune therapy to tackle the disease were still in their experimental stages and the most vulnerable group in 10-15 years time will be over 75. Tests to diagnose the disease in its early stages are still imprecise, and there is a debate raging over whether victims should be identified when there is no effective treatment. Professor Peto said the dangers of exposure to asbestos had been known since the 1930s, yet few safeguards were enacted for decades. “Historically it is incomprehensible that this has happened. “That Britain should have made this extraordinary industrial error seems hard to understand,” he added.

Dr Keith Prowse, chairman of the British Lung Foundation, said the shortest time for the disease to develop was 15 years while the average was 35. Sufferers show signs of breathlessness, pain in the lower back or chest and a persistent cough. Dr Prowse said extreme surgery was possible in the early stages, with the removal of an affected lung, and latest chemotherapy regimes gave some sufferers an extra three months of survival.

He said: “It is a small gain but an important gain if you look at the current prognosis.”


77 year-old executive overcomes insurance company to get mesothelioma treatment

February 16, 2007

Los Angeles was booming, and in1955 Barbara Harris began her career in real estate. By 1961 she had acquired several high-rise commercial buildings as part of her property management portfolio.
She energetically guided the Building Owners and Managers Association for the Greater Los Angeles Area from 2002-2006 (www.bomagla.org). Her service as president was the culmination of more than forty years’ experience in real estate. Barbara recalls: “It all began when I answered an ad for a job at a public housing project in the San Fernando Valley in the 1950s. Soon I was leasing and managing apartments, then medical facilities, and finally high-rise office buildings.”

Barbara spent hours amidst the tradesmen as they hustled to complete drywall, painting, and final changes so that tenants could move in on time and according to spec. She remembers how eager she was to learn her trade as property manager. Barbara took pride in the workmanship she supervised and it shows. “My buildings are my pride and joy,” she says, and Barbara’s reputation for excellence in property management has grown. Even today, many years after her career has extended beyond hands-on management, she proudly thinks of herself as a property manager.

But her work ethic and desire to know the entire process came at a hidden, terrible cost: as drywallers mixed the joint compound and sanded it down, and as workers serviced and repaired insulated equipment in mechanical rooms, they created clouds of deadly asbestos, breathed in by workmen and bystanders like Barbara.

Barbara and her husband Dale had always led active lifestyles, but her life was about to change drastically. Some forty years after beginning her career in real estate, Barbara woke up with a pain in her chest. Her doctors were baffled, as they counseled her to “wait and see.” In June, 2006 a biopsy confirmed that she had malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Barbara was astounded by this diagnosis after more than a year of inconclusive testing by physicians, specialists, and surgeons. She called the diagnosis a “painful interruption of my career and my family life.”

Unanswered questions

Neither Barbara nor her doctors had any idea what was wrong when she first told them of mild chest pressure on October 30, 2004. Her primary physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Thousand Oaks Medical Offices ordered chest x-rays that revealed fluid around the lung. She remarked that “the usual tests were done, but there seemed no explanation, and I wasn’t sick.”

In November, Barbara saw a pulmonary specialist. He ordered several tests: a CT scan, x-ray, ultrasound, blood tests, echocardiogram, and a thoracentesis to remove the fluid around her lungs. While he found that Barbara had a right lung pleural effusion, the tests were indeterminate, and neither he nor his colleagues could explain the accumulation of fluid behind her lungs. Her doctors decided to “monitor” the situation, and she dutifully went in quarterly for chest x-rays and examinations.

On December 16, Barbara saw a thoracic surgeon who gave a similar prognosis. The surgeon could not identify the cause of the fluid, and did not perform a thoracoscopy to explore her chest cavity because she was not “sick,” and because he believed it would put her through unnecessary pain.

Barbara’s pulmonary specialist monitored her condition steadily over the next year. She consulted doctors about obtaining a second opinion outside of her medical insurance plan, but her doctors discouraged her, believing she would not find any conclusive information even though they had never ordered diagnostic tests such as cytology on the extracted fluid or a PET scan. Barbara was growing increasingly concerned, but her primary physician assured her that she did not have cancer.

On May 2, 2006, Barbara returned to her pulmonary specialist’s office complaining of shortness of breath. Another x-ray showed that her pleural effusion had increased. Once again, the cause was undetermined. Exasperated, Barbara demanded action. She was referred to a new thoracic surgeon who would perform minimally invasive surgery. The surgeon ordered an additional x-ray, CT scan, and a pulmonary function test, but the tests returned the same inconclusive results.

Opting for one more strategy, the thoracic surgeon performed a video-assisted pleural biopsy to remove affected tissue for further examination. He removed two and one-half liters during the biopsy and performed a talc pleurodesis, which attempts to prevent further fluid accumulation in the lungs.

One month later, Barbara received the results of her biopsy and was stunned to hear that she had right-sided pleural mesothelioma, a malignant and aggressive cancer. After all, she had been told for over a year that cancer had been “ruled out.”

Taking charge

Tired of waiting on her doctors’ advice, Barbara took charge. She and her son Michael, a public relations professional in Costa Mesa, began to seriously research mesothelioma and available treatment options. After contacting the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (www.marf.org), Barbara was referred to Dr. Robert Cameron. “It soon became clear that there were only a few mesothelioma specialists, and that fortunately one of the best was in my city of Los Angeles,” she says.

Barbara arranged a consultation with Dr. Cameron, a nationally renowned physician, surgeon, and Chief of Thoracic Surgery at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. Dr. Cameron concluded that Barbara was a good candidate for a pleurectomy with decortication (P/D), where the tumor surrounding the lung is removed, leaving the lung itself intact. Depending on the patient’s recovery, the surgery is followed with further treatment, such as radiation, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy, which helps the body fight off remaining tumor cells.

More delays

For nineteen months, Barbara’s HMO doctors had made little progress diagnosing and treating her symptoms, and when she finally received answers, Barbara expected that real action would finally happen. However, because Dr. Cameron was outside her insurance plan, she could not gain a proper referral. While her HMO’s thoracic surgeon offered to perform a pleurectomy with decortication surgery, he admitted that he had never performed the procedure before. Dr. Cameron, on the other hand, developed the pleurectomy with decortication procedure and has performed it on hundreds of mesothelioma patients. In addition, the HMO surgeon would not provide the additional non-invasive therapies which have successfully increased the life expectancy of many of Dr. Cameron’s patients.

Barbara would not allow herself to be a “guinea pig” for the HMO surgeon and would not settle for half of the treatment necessary to effectively treat her mesothelioma.

In July, 2006 Barbara made efforts to see Dr. Cameron, but her insurer denied the consultation. Despite this, she took matters into her own hands and made an appointment for July 24, 2006. After seeing Barbara and evaluating her case, Dr. Cameron advised her that she was a candidate for the tri-modal approach to treating her mesothelioma and suggested beginning “as soon as possible.”

Before proceeding with Dr. Cameron’s treatment plan, and with assistance from the Law Offices of Roger G. Worthington, Barbara made another request for her HMO to approve and pay for the “out of plan” services. In support of the request, Barbara asserted that, based on the HMO surgeon’s lack of any experience performing the procedure and the HMO’s inability to provide the same post-surgical therapies, the HMO could not realistically assert that it could provide the same services “in plan.” Nevertheless, the HMO adhered to its simply ludicrous position that the requested services were available “in plan” and refused to pay for Barbara’s treatment with Dr. Cameron.

Determined to get the best treatment available, Barbara persisted without the aid of insurance. Dr. Cameron performed the surgery on August 10, 2006. The surgery went well. The affected area in and around her seventh rib was successfully removed and a portion of her diaphragm was repaired using a sheet of bovine pericardium, the tissue surrounding a cow’s heart. The tumor was removed successfully from the area between the lungs. Some air leakage required that three large chest tubes be inserted, and Dr. Cameron removed approximately one liter of fluid. He could see no evidence of a pleurodesis even though Barbara had previously undergone a talc pleurodesis procedure just a few months before.

After surgery

Even though the surgery and its aftermath were more painful than Barbara would ever let on, she tolerated her stay in the hospital with courage unstinting goodwill. Her husband Dale and her son Mike supported her throughout the ordeal. Less than two months after surgery, Barbara continues to fight the battle of how much pain medication to take. She says that “Tylenol and Motrin don’t quite keep my back free of pain, but stronger pain killers seem to dull my mind. That’s discouraging, as I normally pride myself on clear thinking. But then, I’ve really never been ill before. I can’t wait to be free of all medications.” To help get her through the “down time of surgery,” Barbara looks forward to projects she wants to accomplish as soon as she returns to her executive responsibilities.

Dr. Cameron has recommended further treatment. Hopefully, with the aid of these follow-up treatments, she will return to work soon. She’s readying for Dr. Cameron’s therapy regimen with interferon, and feels fortunate to have met him. “Things are looking good,” she says. “And like the old saying goes—no sense in borrowing trouble!”

More than a real estate executive

Over the years, Barbara has received numerous honors for her work educating and training property managers. She is a member of the Mayor of Los Angeles’ advisory council for Homeland Security, helping to determine how best to protect the safety of L.A. office building tenants and visitors.

Before that, Barbara attended the Goodman School of Theatre in Chicago, where she met and married Dale Harris, a young man just out of the Army and WWII service in Okinawa, who aspired to an acting and singing career. From Chicago they came to Los Angeles—Dale to pursue his career, which included recordings and singing in large Las Vegas productions—Barbara to give birth to her son Michael and begin her real estate career. Barbara and Dale celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary in February 2006.

Barbara is an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction, and is presently reading presidential biographies. She has also written a novel called, Who is Julia?, which was published to excellent reviews and made into a T.V. movie. She is a member and past president of PEN Center USA, a literary organization.

She is a founder, past president, and advisory board member of the Ross Minority Program in real estate at USC, an executive education program that has certified over 400 students since 1993. She cannot wait to return to the work she loves.


Chris Botti concert raises $250,000 for mesothelioma research

February 15, 2007

Los Angeles, CA – Feb. 14, 2007 – The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute raised $250,000 for asbestos cancer research at a benefit concert on Saturday, February 10, 2007. Over 350 guests gathered to hear Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter Chris Botti give the performance of a lifetime.

Chris Botti Jamming

Chris and his band were joined by Jordan Zevon who warmed the crowd with his father’s, Warren Zevon’s, classic “Werewolves of London.” Guests were eager to talk with Barbara McQueen who made an appearance to support mesothelioma research. She shared personal stories about her time with late husband, Steve McQueen the international movie legend. Barbara autographed copies of her latest book, “Steve McQueen: The Last Mile” as well as never before seen photos she took of Steve over 25 years ago. Another champion, Floyd Landis, winner of the 2006 Tour de France, raised his voice with others about the need to end asbestos-related cancer. Those able to attend enjoyed a musical night together with all proceeds from the event benefiting the Punch Worthington Research Lab, a division of PHLBI. Click here for photos from the event.

Breakthrough Night for “Orphan” Disease

The fundraiser was truly a breakthrough for advocates of mesothelioma research. Caused by asbestos exposure, “meso” has long been considered an orphan disease as it receives relatively little funding from traditional cancer research channels, even though 3,000-4,000 people are newly diagnosed each year. Research funding greatly lags behind the disease’s impact.

Werewolves of London

Dr. Robert Cameron, chief of thoracic surgery at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and one of PHLBI’s Scientific Advisors, was pleased that so many joined together for the cause, including his own patients. Guests crowded around Dr. Cameron and his slideshow presentation to learn about PHLBI’s exciting new research. He said, “this event shows what can happen when people pull together for mesothelioma research. We have promising projects underway that may lead to more effectivement management of this disease for this and future generations.”

Terry Lynch, PHLBI Director and Vice President and Health and Hazard Administrator for the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers Union, said, “this was an impressive event, raising money for an important cause. The research projects underway at PHLBI are important to help treat mesothelioma patients. The union supports that mission.”

Lynch’s union donated $15,000 to the fundraiser. Other large donors include the estate of David “Punch” Worthington with a donation of $60,000; the law firm Simon, Eddins, and Greenstone gave $50,000; Roger Worthington (PHLBI Director) donated $25,000; John Markovich (PHLBI Director) donated $10,000; law firm Simmons Cooper donated $10,000; and asbestos manufacturer Owens-Illionois contributed $5,000 to the event.

Auction items raised an additional $9,000 including sculptures by Eric Peltzer and Alex Pavlenko, paintings by Rick Delanty and Thomas Schmidt, autographed limited edition copies of Barbara McQueen’s book “The Last Mile,” and signed photographs of Steve McQueen taken by his wife Barbara.

Upcoming Clinical Trial

Over the next six months PHLBI is recruiting union workers who were former heavy smokers and also exposed to asbestos for a free clinical trial using Celebrex. Celebrex is being tested as a preventive treatment for lung cancer for those who might be at risk. Dr. Jenny Mao of UCLA is overseeing the trial. Learn more about the eligibility requirements at www.lungcancerprevention.com or contact Jessica Like to be involved in this exciting opportunity.


Asbestos workers union donates $15,000 to research

February 9, 2007

The International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers has donated $15,000 to the Pacific Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. This generous gift was given as a result of PHLBI’s outreach to union workers who are most at risk for asbestos-related illnesses due to occupational exposure. The money will be used to further medical research that will result in better medical options for those with asbestos-related diseases, and ultimately to find a cure for illnesses caused by asbestos such as mesothelioma.

“This is a wonderful gift and a tremendous expression of support for PHLBI’s mission. The union has really stepped forward to put real dollars into research that can improve the lives of people with asbestos-related diseases,” says executive director of PHLBI Jessica Like. “We owe the union a huge debt of gratitude for helping make our work possible.”

Vice President of the international union and director of the union’s health, safety, and hazards program Terry Lynch, who also serves on the board of PHLBI, will be in California today and tomorrow for PHLBI’s fundraising concert with Grammy Award winner Chris Botti. The proceeds of the event will go to research projects at PHLBI.


Northwest Labor Press runs story about PHLBI, mesothelioma

February 7, 2007

L.A. lab works to improve odds against asbestos cancer

When Olympic Gold medalist Terry McCann began having chest pains, he knew something was wrong. He never drank or smoked. He worked out daily in the gym and was a member of the San Clemente morning surf “dawn patrol” in California.

The chest pain went away, but mesothelioma, the deadly cancer within his chest wall, did not. Before Terry passed away last year at age 72 — more than two years after his symptoms had surfaced — he had already beaten the odds. Ten years ago, men and women with mesothelioma faced a certain and swift death. The cancer, which kills 2,000 to 4,000 men and women a year, oftentimes misdiagnosed as pneumonia or as an inflamed lining of the lungs, would quickly surround the victim’s lungs and heart sac with a concrete-like sheath, and crush the patient to death.

People with mesothelioma still face a tremendous struggle, but in Los Angeles cutting-edge research and treatment to detect and manage the illness is is being conducted at the non-profit Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute and its Punch Worthington Research Laboratory (PWR), in collaboration with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Dr. Robert Cameron, a surgeon and scientist who directs the PWR Lab, has put together an aggressive agenda to tackle mesothelioma head-on. The lab’s Risk Reduction Program is focusing on prevention of mesothelioma in workers exposed to asbestos and early detection through breath and blood tests. The Lab’s Mesothelioma and Asbestosis Treatment Program is seeking to improve therapies for people with already existing disease.

Mesothelioma is caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers. It has a long latency period (the time between first exposure to asbestos and the diagnosis of the disease). In rare cases the latency period has been as short as 10 to 15 years. Typically, however, mesothelioma occurs 20, 30, 40 or more years after the first exposure.

Workers in the construction trades are particularly vulnerable to exposure, but the illness itself doesn’t discriminate based on the color of the collar. “This disease affects Olympic athletes, drywallers, congressmen, pipefitters, admirals in the Navy, Hollywood icons, insulators, young women college students, painters, interior decorators, boilermakers and everyone in between,” said Roger Worthington, an attorney and board member of the Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute. The Punch Worthington Laboratory was named in the memory of Roger’s father, David “Punch” Worthington of Salem, a union organizer and Ph.D. in genetics who died last year from asbestos-related cancer.

The Portland area is considered a hotspot for mesothelioma due to its historic shipbuilding and paper mill industries, yet the closest treatment centers with doctors who specialize in mesothelioma are in Seattle (at the Swedish Cancer Institute) and Los Angeles, Worthington said.

“It’s too bad the local doctors haven’t responded to the asbestos epidemic here in Oregon,” said Greg Deblock, a retired business manager of Portland-based Steamfitters Local 235, which later merged to become the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 290. In November, Deblock was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. He is struggling to find specialized care in Portland.

Worthington says too many doctors are resigned to “doomsday” with asbestos cancers. “They assume that mesothelioma cannot be cured,” he continued, “ but the sad truth is neither industry nor the government has invested in finding cures for this orphan cancer. How do we know it’s ‘incurable’ if we don’t try to cure it?”

To date, there isn’t a reliable test to detect mesothelioma at an early stage. Imaging tests, such as X-rays and CT scans, are not satisfactory. Screening tests exist for breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer, and have resulted in better diagnosis of early disease and improved cure rates. Early detection for mesothelioma could lead to similar benefits.

One promising test under study at the PWR Lab involves identifying evidence of mesothelioma and even asbestos exposure through markers in a person’s exhaled breath or blood.

The Institute is recruiting volunteers — particularly workers and their families residing on the West Coast — for the early detection breath and blood screenings, although the start date has not been finalized, the Lab is taking names and will contact volunteers once the trials begin.

Since asbestos inflames the lining of the chest (pleura), the lab’s prevention program also is testing agents that inhibit inflammation as a means of preventing the disease. Doctors believe that interrupting the long cycle of inflammation could break the progression of changes that lead to cancer. Indomethacin, celecoxib, aspirin and other agents may hold the key.

The PWR Lab is testing celecoxib right now. This trial is for people who have been exposed to asbestos and who have a history of smoking. (The testing is free, but participants will have to go to Los Angeles to participate.)

For more information about the celecoxib test, call  or email Jessica Like, executive director of the Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, at 310-622-4960. For more information about the early detection program, or for information about meso treatment options, contact Dr. Cameron at 310-622-4960.

[From Feb. 2 issue of NW Labor Press]