Asbestos cancer is a type of malignancy that develops after continuous exposure to asbestos. When the fine fibers of asbestos become lodged in the lining of the lungs or abdominal cavity, the asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma may form.
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Mesothelioma differs from other types of lung-related cancers in that it is the only disease that that is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. People contract mesothelioma by inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers.
After the fibers are in the body’s system for a while, DNA damage occurs which leads to tumors in the lungs, abdomen, and other parts of the body, with the lungs being the most common part of the body for mesothelioma development.
Mesothelioma can also develop from some forms of radiation therapy as well as through second-hand contact, such as the clothing worn by a family member who worked around asbestos.
Direct and prolonged asbestos exposure remains the leading cause of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma: Long Dormancy
The disease almost always lies dormant for several decades, anywhere from 20 to 50 years before victims begin to experience the first warning signs. In many cases, mesothelioma has already moved into a later stage of the disease before victims get a proper diagnosis.
Since the first signs of the disease are often confused with the flu or pneumonia, mesothelioma can go undiagnosed for a long time, making prognosis grim once its diagnosed.
In addition, many victims may actually have recurring pneumonia and/or bronchitis because of mesothelioma, which further confuses a proper diagnosis with more common diseases.
Although the majority of malignant mesothelioma patients have been subjected to long-term asbestos exposure, in certain situations, victims have been exposed to asbestos for only a short amount of time before contracting mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.
Some studies have also suggested, as previously mentioned, that people run the risk of asbestos exposure just by washing the clothes of someone who has been around asbestos.
Teachers, staff members, and students also risk developing mesothelioma if they are in school buildings that were built with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
This type of exposure is rare though, as state and federal laws are set up to ensure each school maintains an asbestos management plan at all times.
Mesothelioma also differs from other types of lung cancers in that victims never contract the disease from tobacco products.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma:
- Severe chest pain
- Rough breathing sounds
- Reduction in chest expansion when inhaling
- Hacking, dry coughing, or wheezing
- Unusual weight loss
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Nausea and vomiting
Since there is currently no cure for mesothelioma, the prognosis for victims of mesothelioma is not favorable. However, with the advancement of several treatment options, many patients can go on to live many years after diagnosis.
Each case is unique and will depend upon the stage of the disease and the physical and mental health of the patient. A combination of a strong treatment plan and a healthy diet can help increase the patient’s life span.
In addition, several patients have turned to meditation and other holistic treatments, and have reported favorable outcomes.
Asbestos-related Lung Cancer
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), lung cancer, which is one of the most prevalent types of cancers in the world, is also one of the greatest risks for American workers who have been exposed to asbestos.
Thousands of workers die each year as a result of asbestos-related lung cancer, and these numbers are expected to increase as more people begin to hit the timeline in which asbestos-related symptoms start to show up.
One of the biggest differences between asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma is that individuals who smoke cigarettes, pipes, or cigars are much more likely to develop asbestos-related lung cancer, but smoking doesn’t factor into an increased risk of mesothelioma.
Symptoms of asbestos-related lung cancer consist of:
- Dry coughs and hacking
- Difficulty in breathing
- Lung and chest pain
- Fever, chills, and throat pain
- Frequent episodes of pneumonia or bronchitis
- Face and neck swelling
- Unusual weight loss
- Pain that worsens when inhaling
- A gargling-type sound when inhaling, accompanied by pain
Other Forms of Asbestos Cancer
A few other forms of cancer have also been linked to asbestos. Although the evidence is still being researched, preliminary studies suggested that asbestos has the potential to form cancer in the colon, gastrointestinal system, throat, esophagus, and gallbladder.
Common Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Cancer
The most common occupations in which workers were exposed to asbestos include
- Maritime workers
- Construction workers
- HVAC workers
- Factory workers
- Papermill workers
- Military personnel prior to the early 1980s.
Workers were exposed to different types of asbestos depending upon occupation, such as Amosite, Chrysotile, and Crocidolite.
Almost all victims of mesothelioma had prolonged exposure at work, and usually for extended periods of time on a daily basis.
Moreover, victims are typically older males ages 60 and older, although mesothelioma can affect anyone at any age.
For example, as mentioned earlier, teachers and even students are at a slight risk if the school building was created prior to the asbestos ban.
Older males are more apt to develop mesothelioma because of the occupations associated with asbestos use. Most job sites were male-dominated when exposure occurred.
Sometimes those who’ve never worked around asbestos but live close to naturally occurring asbestos will develop asbestos cancer.
For example, citizens of three villages in Turkey were dying at an alarming rate due to exposure to natural asbestos that was scattered around the small towns of Karain, Sarıhıdır, and Tuzköy.
Around 50% of all deaths occurring in these villages were from asbestos cancer.
Diagnosing Asbestos Cancer
Diagnosing asbestos cancer can be problematic as the signs and symptoms tend to mimic a variety of other common diseases. Therefore, a complete medical history, along with your entire work history, should be provided to your physician right away.
If a doctor knows that you have a history of asbestos exposure right away, it can speed up the diagnosis process.
X-rays, a CT scan, and/or an MRI scan is usually performed next, which gives doctors a detailed look around the chest cavity and other internal body parts.
If abnormal cells or a thickened pleura is found, a syringe or a chest tube is inserted into the patient’s body. It’s used to gather the fluid in the infected areas of the body, which will then be evaluated for cancerous cells and tumors.
If malignant cells are found, a biopsy usually follows. A biopsy allows the physician to remove a small part of the infected area in order for a pathologist to study it.
A biopsy is almost always needed in order to confirm a positive diagnosis for mesothelioma.
Screening for Asbestos Cancer
Currently, there is no official or universal method of screening for asbestos cancer, even though an early screening would help doctors diagnose the disease much earlier than the methods used today.
However, some physicians are testing out the Mesomark assay screening, an in-vitro test that measures soluble mesothelin proteins. Mesothelin-related proteins are released by infected mesothelioma cells.
Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers are considered new in the medical world, but as more research continues, a better, more successful screening method could surface.
If You’ve Been Diagnosed
Remember, if you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, or asbestosis, you may qualify for significant compensation. Remember to fill out our form to get your free Financial Compensation Packet, with information on asbestos and mesothelioma lawyers in your area. If you need additional assistance, contact us toll-free at 800-793-4540.
Page Reviewed and Edited by Mesothelioma Attorney Paul Danziger
Paul Danziger grew up in Houston, Texas and earned a law degree from Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. For over 25 years years he has focused on representing mesothelioma cancer victims and others hurt by asbestos exposure. Paul and his law firm have represented thousands of people diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer, recovering significant compensation for injured clients. Every client is extremely important to Paul and he will take every call from clients who want to speak with him. Paul and his law firm handle mesothelioma cases throughout the United States.