The tissue that lines your stomach, lungs, heart and other organs is the mesothelium. If a tumor develops in this tissue, it is mesothelioma. Tumors may be benign or malignant, with malignant tumors indicating a serious and often advanced form of cancer.
Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. When someone inhales asbestos particles the tiny fibers lodge in the mesothelium, most often in the lungs. The fibers cause inflammation and scarring to occur, which can develop into tumorous growths. These tumors can also mutate, preventing the body from fighting off cancerous cells. Mesothelioma can develop in the lungs, but it is not the same thing as asbestos lung cancer.
Currently, exposure to asbestos is the only confirmed cause of mesothelioma. It is estimated to account for 90 percent of all cases. While the dangers of asbestos are documented for many years prior, it was not until the 1960’s that researchers officially linked asbestos exposure and mesothelioma.
Researchers also discovered that exposure could occur by working with products containing asbestos, living in homes with asbestos-containing materials or during demolition or renovation of older structures. The majority of cases, however, are due to workplace exposure to asbestos.
The occupations most commonly reporting asbestos exposure, mesothelioma or other occupational diseases, include:
- Shipyard Workers
- Railroad Workers
- Demolition Crews
- Auto Mechanics
Asbestos is not as common today as it was 50 years ago, but the impact of exposure lingers on. Since the hazards of asbestos exposure have become better understood, regulators have placed guidelines on the use of, management and removal of asbestos.
What are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?
Symptoms of mesothelioma often develop over a period of 10-50 years after initial exposure. This makes it very difficult to diagnose and treat early on. Many people who are diagnosed already have an advanced form of the disease when a diagnosis is made. The symptoms vary depending on where the cancerous tumor(s) are located. The most common types of mesothelioma include:
- Pleural – Represents 80 percent of cases. The tumor is located in the tissue surrounding the lungs. Symptoms include:
- Painful Cough
- Chest Pain
- Shortness of Breath
- Unexplained Weight Loss
- Unusual Tissue Lumps/Nodules Under the Skin
- Peritoneal – Represents 20 percent of cases. The tumor is located in abdominal tissue. Symptoms include:
- Abdominal Pain
- Unexplained Weight Loss
- Abdominal Swelling
- Pericardial – Represents one percent of cases. The tumor is located in the tissue surrounding the heart. Symptoms include:
- Chest Pain
- Difficulty Breathing
- Tunica Vaginalis – Represents a very small number of cases. The tumor is located in the tissue surrounding the testicles. Symptoms include:
- Noticeable Mass on the Testicles
Can Mesothelioma be Treated?
Most often, mesothelioma develops first in the lungs or abdomen, but can easily spread to other parts of the body. There is no cure for mesothelioma, but there are treatment options. First, your doctor must determine where the malignant tumor is located, what cells are impacted and how advanced the cancer is. Your healthcare provider will use X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other tests to determine the best course of treatment.
Currently, the best treatment options for mesothelioma include:
- Surgery – In early stages, malignant mesothelioma tumors may be surgically removed. In later stages, surgical removal is not possible as a means of removing the cancer, but can help reduce symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is a common treatment for mesothelioma. Chemotherapy kills cancerous cells. Patients may undergo chemotherapy treatment by itself, or in an addition to surgery.
- Radiation – Radiation therapy is a post-surgical treatment that kills any remaining cancerous cells. X-rays and protons focus on specific areas of the body, and high-energy beams eliminate cancerous cells. In more advanced stages, radiation may not be successful in killing or removing cancerous cells, but can help reduce symptoms and slow progression.
While these treatments can be successful at controlling symptoms and slowing progression, they also have their own risks. These treatments can be painful and debilitating. They are also very expensive.
The prognosis for mesothelioma is very poor, with the average life expectancy being only 1-2 years after diagnosis. Only around nine percent of mesothelioma patients live longer than five years after diagnosis. The prognosis for mesothelioma patients is often better with early detection and use of conventional treatments.
There are many factors that can impact treatment and prognosis, including age, comorbid conditions and response to treatment. It is important that anyone with a diagnosis of mesothelioma talk to their doctor and create a treatment plan that works for them.
Mesothelioma and Your Legal Rights
Many people diagnosed with mesothelioma have taken legal action against their employers, a manufacturer, a property owner or other parties. Many cases of the disease are the result of employer negligence. Employers have been found to not warn employees of the dangers of asbestos exposure. Also, in some cases, employees have not been given proper safety gear.
Mesothelioma and other occupational diseases, such as silicosis and asbestosis, are preventable. Use of appropriate safety gear and proper ventilation techniques can reduce exposure to asbestos. Consequently, it reduces the occurrence of occupational illness.
If you have questions about mesothelioma and your legal rights – or that of a loved one – contact AkinMears, L.L.P. Speak with our occupational diseases lawyer about your situation. We can certainly help determine if you qualify to take legal action. If so, you may qualify for compensation for the harm you have suffered. Call AkinMears, L.L.P. today at 855-489-7853.