What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a disease where cells in the mesothelium become abnormal and divide without order or control. The cancer cells can invade nearby tissues and organs or spread to other areas of the body. Mesothelioma usually affects the pleura, the membrane that surrounds the lungs. This form of the disease is called pleural mesothelioma. The peritoneum can also be affected, which is known as peritoneal mesothelioma. It rarely begins in the pericardium.

Mesothelioma can be divided into three types: epithelioid, sarcomatoid and mixed/biphasic. Epithelioid mesothelioma has the best outlook and makes up 50% to 70% of all mesothelioma cases.

Decades ago, researchers connected the development of mesothelioma to crocidolite asbestos exposure in South African miners. Approximately 70% to 90% of patients who develop mesothelioma have some prior asbestos exposure commonly through work. Mesothelioma cases tend to come from those working near or in shipyards and plants that produce asbestos products.

In the United States, approximately 2,000 to 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed annually. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma than women, although the gap is closing. Before regulations concerning asbestos were established, workers carried home asbestos fibers on their clothing, exposing their family members as well. In addition, those living or working near asbestos-related operations can be exposed to asbestos released into the environment. One study found that living close to these area can significantly heighten the chance of developing mesothelioma.

The risk of developing mesothelioma increases with:

  • Age
  • Increased duration and intensity of exposure to asbestos

What is Mesothelium?

The mesothelium is a membrane covering and protecting most of the body's internal organs. The mesothelium contains two layers of cells, with one surrounding the organ and the other forming a sac around it. The mesothelium creates a lubricating fluid which is released between these layers allowing moving organs, such as the lungs and heart, to glide easily against nearby structures.

  • The mesothelium has different names, depending on its location in the body:
  • The peritoneum is the mesothelial tissue that covers most organs in the abdominal cavity.
  • The pleura is the membrane surrounding the lungs and lining the wall of the chest cavity.
  • The pericardium covers and protects the heart.
  • The mesothelial tissue surrounding the male internal reproductive organs is called the tunica vaginalis testis.
  • The tunica serosa uteri covers the internal reproductive organs in women.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of minerals occurring naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers. Asbestos can be separated into thin, durable threads. Because of the fiber's resistance to chemicals, fire and heat, along with the fact that they do not conduct electricity, asbestos has been used in many industries.

Two subgroups of asbestos exist. Chrysotile has curly fibers and is in the serpentine family of minerals. Amphibole asbestos has straight, needle-like fibers. The amphibole family includes anthophyllite, tremolite, actinolite, amosite and crocidolite asbestos. Chrysotile asbestos has been used largely in commercial applications around the globe.

Decades ago, researchers found a link between crocidolite asbestos exposure in South African miners and mesothelioma. Around 70% to 90% of mesothelioma patients have been exposed to asbestos. Many patients worked in or near shipyards or plants that made asbestos products. In the last few decades, the mesothelioma mortality rate has increased to 10% annually in most industrialized countries. This has been linked to the increased use of asbestos in manufacturing, construction and shipbuilding.

Because mesothelioma usually takes decades to manifest, the benefits of removing asbestos from homes and workplaces and creating health regulations about asbestos use may take decades to be seen. Deaths caused by mesothelioma are predicted to rise in the United States and Western Europe until at least 2020.

Is Mesothelioma common?

Mesothelioma is a relatively rare form of cancer. While other cancer diagnoses have increased considerably over the past quarter century (over 1/4 of the U.S. population will suffer from some type of cancer in their lifetime), mesothelioma is still not common. Around 3,000 new cases are reported in the U.S. every year, with most of patients being older men. However, women are also known to suffer from mesothelioma, which can occur at any age.

What causes Mesothelioma?

People who have been exposed to asbestos are the most likely to develop mesothelioma. Approximately 70% to 80% of mesothelioma patients have worked with asbestos. However, some patients have had no known exposure.

Tobacco usage alone does not increase the risk of developing mesothelioma. However, smokers who are exposed to asbestos have an increased risk of lung cancer.

Who is at risk for Mesothelioma?

People working in construction, building, demolition or in the making of heating products have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma. The length of asbestos exposure and the intensity of the exposure determines the risk for developing this disease. However, there have been cases where the patient had little or no asbestos exposure. Likewise, not all people who are exposed to asbestos develop mesothelioma.

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set safety requirements and limits for asbestos exposure in the workplace. People working with asbestos are required to have protective equipment. In addition, asbestos workers are generally required to shower and changes clothes before returning home. This requirement protects the families of asbestos workers who can be exposed to the asbestos fibers on the worker's clothing or hair.

What are common symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma symptoms typically do not develop until decades after initial asbestos exposure. Additionally, many mesothelioma symptoms are similar to less serious conditions. However, if you experience any of the symptoms listed below, see a doctor immediately:

  • shortness of breath
  • unusual weight loss
  • chest pain, especially after exertion
  • bowel obstruction
  • abdominal pain
  • anemia (unusual fatigue and listlessness)
  • abnormal blood clotting or excessive bleeding
  • If the cancer has spread, you may also feel neck or facial pain and trouble swallowing.

How is one diagnosed for Mesothelioma?

Diagnosing mesothelioma can be difficult. Typically, a doctor will conduct a complete physical exam, which will include x-rays of the abdomen and chest and a respiratory function test. X-rays may be replaced with advanced techniques such as a MRI or CAT scan.

If the doctor has concerns, he or she will refer you to a cancer specialist, also known as an oncologist. The cancer specialist will perform a biopsy by taking a tissue sample from your abdomen or chest. This sample will be examined under a microscope. If the pathologist finds mesothelioma, the oncologist will need to establish whether the disease is localized or has spread.

What treatment is available for Mesothelioma?

Treatment of mesothelioma depends on the stage of the disease. Surgery is normally performed if the cancer is localized. The oncologist, or cancer specialist, will extract the affected part of the chest lining and nearby tissue. If the pleura is affected, a lung and part of the diaphragm may need to be removed.

Radiation therapy can also be used. This procedure uses targeted ionizing radiation to kill malignant cells. If the cancer has spread, a doctor will most likely use chemotherapy, which utilizes anti-cancer medications.

To relieve pain and other symptoms, a doctor will insert a tube to drain fluid from the abdomen or chest.

What Mesothelioma research is being done?

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) currently sponsors clinical trials that attempt to find new treatments and improve existing ones. If you want to participate, consult with your doctor and call 1-800-4CANCER. For more information, visit http://www.cancer.gov to locate news on clinical trials and a catalogue of relevant publications.

How does Asbestos lead to Mesothelioma?

Small asbestos fibers can be easily inhaled by workers. Inflammation occurs when the body attempts to break down and eliminate these particles from the lungs.

The particles can reach the smallest and most distant parts of the lungs. These fibers cannot be removed by coughing unless they attach to mucus in the air passages. They can also remain in the tissue around the chest or stomach cavity, where they cause inflammation and lead to mesothelioma.

Asbestos particles can damage the lungs by forming scar tissue. Those who have been exposed to asbestos have a seven times greater risk for developing lung cancer than those who have not been exposed. The three causes of death for those with significant asbestos exposure are mesothelioma, lung cancer and lung scarring, referred to as asbestosis.

Does Asbestos Cause Mesothelioma?

The primary cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. In the United States, most cases of mesothelioma are related to asbestos exposure. There are several types of asbestos, but asbestos can broadly be described as a fibrous mineral that has been used in numerous industrial products. Some asbestos products include brake lining, insulation, and roofing materials. When workers use these products, they may be exposed to asbestos dust. Workers can breathe airborne asbestos fibers, which then become lodged in the lungs. These tiny fibers can work their way through the lungs and into the membrane surrounding the lungs. The asbestos fibers can irritate the mesothelium or peritoneum, eventually causing cancerous cells to develop.

Do I Need a Mesothelioma Attorney?

Many companies were aware of the hazards of asbestos exposure, but continued to risk the health of their employees by failing to take steps to protect their workers. As a result, former employees who later develop mesothelioma may be eligible for financial compensation from the employer or other parties responsible for the asbestos exposure. It is essential that you obtain representation from a knowledgeable mesothelioma attorney as soon as possible. The Serling Asbestos and Mesothelioma Law Firm can file a claim on your behalf to help you get the compensation you deserve to cover your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Mesothelioma is a terrible disease that leaves little hope for the future of its victims. A mesothelioma lawyer can help by recommending the best course of legal action to obtain the compensation you and your family deserve and need. To learn more about your legal options, trust a dedicated asbestos and mesothelioma lawyer.