The Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) is partnering with the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation to better educate sheet metal workers about mesothelioma and assist with treatment in the case of diagnosis.

A nonprofit organization, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation aims to eradicate the disease by providing research funding, education, support and advocacy for patients diagnosed with mesothelioma and their families. The rare cancer is primarily caused by asbestos exposure, and patients typically aren’t diagnosed until 20 to 50 years after their exposure. Of the 3,000 new diagnoses in the United States annually, most of them are either pleural or peritoneal.

Pleural mesothelioma, the most common form, grows like a rind around the lining of the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdomen.

Treatments more successful now

Twenty years ago, the disease was virtually unknown and oncologists mainly treated it like any other form of cancer. Today, with the help of the foundation, patients can live longer, with a better quality of life. Treatments specific to mesothelioma – including radiation, chemotherapy and surgery – are far more successful than even a decade ago.

Part of the partnership is to make sure sheet metal workers have the facts about the disease. Just like with many forms of cancer, the earlier the diagnosis and treatment, the better the outcome.

A diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, said Randall Krocka, SMOHIT administrator.

Symptoms, side effects and support

Expert medical intervention is the key to successfully treating the disease. Upon diagnosis, the foundation will connect patients with one-on-one consultations with the foundation’s expert nurse practitioner, who can help patients and their families select specialists, manage symptoms and side effects, retain financial aid and make support group introductions, said Maja Belamaric, director of communications for the foundation.

Clinicians on the foundation’s team have published data on mesothelioma in the medical community. This expertise helps them more efficiently treat the disease.

“Mesothelioma experts understand this disease and are able to draw from their vast patient experience to personalize the medical/surgical approach to patients,” said Mary Hesdorffer, APRN, expert nurse practitioner and executive director of the foundation. “Consulting with an expert who has a published track record in this disease can have a significant impact on survival.”

Fears about sreenings

The foundation also attends many of SMOHIT’s mesothelioma screenings at union halls and training centers across the country to help educate sheet metal workers and calm any fears surrounding screenings and diagnosis.

“This is more of a proactive approach to help get sheet metal workers some support,” Krocka said. “It’s another resource or help with the members with a positive diagnosis and potentially peace of mind for those who have been screened or diagnosed.”

The Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) was founded in 1986 to address the impact of decades-long asbestos exposure on those working in the sheet metal industry. To date, more than 55,000 sheet metal workers have been screened as part of its ongoing Asbestos Screening Program.

SMOHIT has since expanded its mission to operate on four separate but related tracks: monitoring and documenting the health of sheet metal workers as it relates to workplace exposures and hazards; providing safety information and training related to best safety practices on and off the job; acting as an aggressive advocate for the health and safety of its members with government and through likeminded allied organizations; and providing diet and exercise information to address the health and wellness of its members.

SMOHIT has adjusted its methods and messages to reflect feedback from local unions and the industry, and to address new safety challenges as they arise. The organization works directly with the International Training Institute (ITI) to provide training programs for the unionized sheet metal industry.

For more information on SMOHIT, visit or call 703-739-7130.