Doctor: Mesothelioma that killed Olsen tough to beat

Doctor: Mesothelioma that killed Olsen tough to beat

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - Merlin Olsen passed away Wednesday from mesothelioma, but a doctor has given tips on how to fight the lung disease that took the former USU football star's life.
Merlin Olsen
Merlin Olsen
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - Merlin Olsen passed away Wednesday from mesothelioma, but a doctor has given tips on how to fight the lung disease that took the U.S.U. football star's life.

When a tumor invades, the lungs become unable to absorb fluid in the chest cavity.  The fluid build-up causes pressure in the chest and compresses the lungs. Due to that compression, the patient will start to have a shortness of breath, and that is the first sign of the cancer.

"The patient goes to the doctor with this complaint and a chest x-ray is obtained," explained Dr. Michael Collins, chief thoracic surgeon at LDS Hospital.
By then, however, it's usually too late. According to Dr. Collins, the average life expectancy after diagnosis is between four and 18 months, although chemo and radiation therapy can increase life around five years.

Dr. Collins said most cases that result in a loss of life is caused by exposure to asbestos, a substance which went unregulated until only a few decades ago. "In the old days, when you were driving down the canyon behind a big truck and smelling the breaks, that was asbestos," he said. "Brake shoes were made from asbestos."

You can also find asbestos in dry wall and other building materials, most of which is insulation. Dr. Collins recommends you get an inspection if your house was build in the 30's, 40's, or 50's.

Collins also said there seems to be a genetic component to this cancer and some people who are exposed do not contract mesothelioma. However, he said if you suspect you have been exposed to asbestos, tell your doctor and get regular screenings. These simple precautions will improve chances of survival.

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