Asbestos has long been prized for its affordability, resistance to heat and electricity, and for its durability, strength, and flexibility. These properties gave it many uses in all kinds of industries, but it has since been proven that long-term exposure to its fibers poses serious health risks, including malignant mesothelioma.
Due to its widespread use in the U.S. and throughout the world, hundreds of millions of people have been and still are exposed to harmful asbestos. Many of these people have developed mesothelioma, a type of cancer that only shows symptoms decades after the exposure occurred.
What is Mesothelioma Cancer?
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that begins in the tissue—this is called the mesothelium—that lines organs in the body. The most common type of this cancer is pleural mesothelioma, in which tumors form in the tissue around the lungs. Asbestos fibers that are inhaled stick in this tissue and cause damage over decades. Other types of mesothelioma attack the peritoneum in the abdominal cavity or the pericardium around the heart.
Malignant mesothelioma takes decades—sometimes up to 50 years—to develop after exposure to asbestos, and because it is rare with symptoms similar to more common illnesses, diagnosis is often delayed.
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include shortness of breath, chest pains, and persistent dry coughing. As the disease advances to its final stage, symptoms can become more severe and typically include severe chest and lung pain, bloating, fatigue, skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, night sweats, and fever.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, or asbestosis, you may be entitled to substantial compensation. Fill out our form to receive a free Financial Compensation Packet. Our packet is loaded with information on leading mesothelioma attorneys in your area, how to file a claim for asbestos trust funds, how to get paid in 90 days, and more.
Who is at Risk for Mesothelioma?
Most mesothelioma victims are people who worked with or around asbestos. Men and women who served in the military, construction workers, shipyard workers, and industrial workers are among those most at risk. Anyone who lived with someone who worked with asbestos may develop mesothelioma after being exposed to fibers brought home on the worker’s clothing.
U.S. Navy veterans have some of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the country. American naval vessels built from the 1930s to the early 1960s contained large amounts of asbestos. Floors, hulls, electrical systems, insulation, boilers, steam pipes, and more contained asbestos fibers in order to add tensile strength, heat resistance, and low electrical conductivity.
Other types of workplaces likely to have contained asbestos include power plants, steel plants, manufacturing facilities, oil companies, welding business, automotive shops, chemical plants, mines and processing plants, and textile mills.
Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer. Not everyone who was exposed to asbestos will develop the cancer, although exposure is the leading cause. The demographic most likely to be diagnosed is older men, those who worked decades ago in facilities with asbestos.
Diagnosing Mesothelioma Cancer
It can take decades to accurately diagnose mesothelioma. Symptoms may not be obvious for 20 to 50 years after exposure. Even then, the symptoms may initially seem mild and mimic those of pneumonia, the flu, and other common illnesses. It is important for physicians to know if patients with mesothelioma-like symptoms may have been exposed to asbestos in the past in order to make the most accurate diagnosis or to refer patients to the right specialists.
After a physical exam, diagnosis will likely involve blood tests, X-rays, and other types of imaging scans. If tumors or growths are seen in scans, the next step is to perform a biopsy. A small piece of tissue is removed to be examined under a microscope. This is usually the most conclusive way to determine if growths are cancerous. After mesothelioma is diagnosed, a specialist will stage the disease.
Mesothelioma, like other cancers, is assigned one of four stages at the time of diagnosis to describe how advanced it is:
- Stage 1. Mesothelioma is rarely diagnosed in this earliest stage. At this point the cancer has not spread from the pleural tissue. Patients in stage 1 have many treatment options and the best chance of surviving the cancer.
- Stage 2. By stage 2 the cancer has spread away from the primary location but has not yet spread to lymph nodes or other types of tissue. Symptoms are still mild, and there are multiple treatment options to extend life expectancy, including surgery.
- Stage 3. Stage 3 mesothelioma is characterized by spreading of the cancer to tissues near the pleura, such as the chest wall or lungs. It may have spread to the lymph nodes. Symptoms are more severe and treatment options are limited.
- Stage 4. The most advanced stage of mesothelioma is metastatic. The cancer has spread to lymph nodes, to the other side of the chest cavity, and possibly to other distant areas of the body. Treatment options are limited and focused on palliative care.
Mesothelioma cancer currently has no cure, which means that the prognosis is not usually positive. Additionally the prognosis is often not very good because most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the latter stages, when treatment options are limited.
It’s important to remember, however, that each patient is different and while one person may survive a year, another person may go on to live decades. It’s imperative to work with your physician on the best treatment options for you and your unique situation.
Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or some combinations have proven to be the most effective mesothelioma treatments so far. Whenever possible, surgery is used to remove as much of the cancerous tissue as possible. Patients who are not good candidates are those whose cancer is in stage 3 or 4, who are elderly, or who are in poor physical condition or poor health.
Patients who undergo surgery are then usually given chemotherapy or radiation to try to eliminate any remaining cancer cells. Those who cannot have surgery may be given either or both of these treatments to slow the spread of the cancer and extend life.
Research into mesothelioma is ongoing, and there are some exciting emerging treatments that may help more patients in the future:
- Better, more targeted chemotherapy drugs that are selective for cancer cells.
- Photodynamic therapy, which uses light-activated drugs to target tumors.
- Immunotherapy, treatment that harnesses the patient’s own immune system to target and kill cancer cells.
- Gene therapy may allow manipulation of cancer cell genes to make them easier to kill.
- Virus therapy is in the very early stages of research, but may be useful in harnessing viruses to attack and kill cancer cells selectively.
In addition to traditional medical treatments, many mesothelioma patients can benefit from a range of complementary and alternative therapies. Specific herbs and vitamins, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and holistic healing, among others may be useful in reducing symptoms and making patients more comfortable.
Getting Legal Help
Remember to fill out our from to get your free Financial Compensation Packet, with information on top asbestos and mesothelioma lawyers in your area. Keep in mind that if you have mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, or asbestosis, you may be eligible for considerable compensation. For additional assistance, contact us 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 hundreds of millions of dollars 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.