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What is Mesothelioma?

Most people have only heard of mesothelioma through late night commercials for attorneys, but if you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with this rare form of cancer, then you will want to learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can. One of the most important things to know is where mesothelioma comes from: it is caused by exposure to asbestos, a carcinogenic mineral that was widely used in the 20th century. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, which means that in many cases it does not begin to manifest symptoms until many decades after the exposure to asbestos takes place.

Mesothelioma can affect many different parts of the body, but largely affects either the lining surrounding the lungs or the lining surrounding the abdominal cavity known as the peritoneum. Pleural mesothelioma is the type that affects the lungs, and it is the most common, while the type of mesothelioma that impacts the abdominal cavity is known as peritoneal mesothelioma. Mesothelioma can also appear in the lining that surrounds the heart and other body organs, but these instances are extremely rare. Though medical researchers have spent decades dedicated themselves to finding a cure for mesothelioma, it is still a fatal disease that impacts between 2,000 and 3,000 victims each year in the United States, with the survival time after diagnosis only rarely exceeding two years.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, you may be entitled to financial compensation from the asbestos companies responsible for your exposure. Call us today at 1-800-706-5606, or send for our free Financial Compensation Packet to learn more about mesothelioma attorneys who can provide you with the information and legal representation that you need.

Where Does Mesothelioma Come From?

Though it has been well established that mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, the particulars of how the cancer grows is still being debated by scientists. What is known is that the process takes an extremely long time, and that it starts with the mesothelioma victim either inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers. When viewed under a microscope, asbestos has pointy ends that become embedded in the lining of the lungs or abdomen, killing the cells and starting a series of mutations that eventually grow into mesothelioma tumors. The growth of these tumors is extremely slow, and it can take decades for them to grow large enough to cause discomfort. By the time the symptoms appear, the cancer is too far advanced to be treated effectively.

One of the problems with detecting mesothelioma is that its symptoms are so similar to those of many other, more benign illnesses, including indigestion (in the case of peritoneal mesothelioma) or the flu, bronchitis or pneumonia (in the case of pleural mesothelioma). Pleural mesothelioma symptoms can include coughing, shortness of breath or chest pain, while peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include bloating, lack of appetite, weight loss, abdominal pain, and nausea. In both cases patients are vulnerable to extreme fatigue, night sweats, fever and other discomforts.

Who Is at Highest Risk for Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is largely a disease that is caused by occupational exposure, though it also appears in those who either live near asbestos mines or factories or whose family members worked in those settings and who brought the dust home on their clothing, skin or hair. A large percentage of mesothelioma victims are veterans of the U.S. armed forces, as all branches of the military used asbestos extensively in the years leading up to World War II and through the end of the Vietnam War. One of the most frequent sites of asbestos exposure was the shipyards and ships of the U.S. Navy, as their insulation and construction contained large quantities of asbestos-contaminated materials. The material’s toxicity was not known at the time that the asbestos was used in the ships’ electrical systems, boiler rooms and compartment walls: what was known was that it was an inexpensive and effective way to protect sailors from heat, fire, and electrical shock. It was also a good way to provide sound insulation, and as a result it was also used in barracks, mess halls, administrative buildings, vehicle brake linings, and more.

In addition to military personnel, others who were exposed to the hazards of asbestos include those working in high heat settings such as steel mills, factories, electrical plants, and oil refineries, as well as any industry that required the type of strength that asbestos provided to materials. Construction workers, drywall installers, electricians and plumbers were all exposed, and so were any employees of building that used asbestos-contaminated materials in their infrastructure. Even teachers who work in buildings that used asbestos insulation, ceiling tiles or floor tiles have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. The list of professions vulnerable to exposure to asbestos is extremely long, as asbestos was so widely used until its dangers were publicized.

Statistically speaking, the most likely people to be diagnosed with mesothelioma are males between the age of 60 and 70. This is because they were the most likely to have worked in the settings described above, though many spouses who laundered their clothes or who worked in those industries have also been diagnosed.

Diagnosing Mesothelioma

One of the most frustrating aspects of treating mesothelioma is the fact that the process is often delayed by the difficulty in diagnosing the disease. Mesothelioma is extremely rare, which means that unless a physician is already aware of a patient’s exposure to asbestos, it is unlikely that it will be on the list of possible causes of a patient’s symptoms. When you add to that the fact that the symptoms of mesothelioma are so similar to those of a number of extremely common illnesses, a great deal of time is often wasted trying to treat the wrong illness. It is often only after antibiotics are proven to be ineffective that the diagnostic tests needed to identify mesothelioma are prescribed, and by that time the illness will have progressed even farther.

Some of the tests that can help with diagnosing mesothelioma include lab work, X-Ray and CT scans, and biopsies that remove tissue or fluid from the lung or abdomen in order to check for tumors. Only once a diagnosis is confirmed can the appropriate treatments begin, and valuable time is often lost during that process.

The Stages of Mesothelioma

As is the case with many other cancers, one of the most important steps in determining the best course of treatment for mesothelioma is in identifying how far the disease has progressed. This is called staging the disease. In mesothelioma there are four identified stages, with the first stage being the earliest and the fourth being the most advanced. When a mesothelioma doctor identifies the stage of a patient’s illness, they are better able to gauge whether it is more prudent to offer a treatment aimed at extending survival rate or a palliative treatment designed to make the patient more comfortable. Most patients that are diagnosed with either Stage I or Stage II mesothelioma are offered greater hope for extended survival, where Stage III is an indication that the cancer has metastasized to other areas of the body, limiting the prospects of stopping its advance. A Stage IV diagnosis generally evokes a course of treatment designed to provide pain relief, as the tumors have spread too far for treatment of any kind to be effective.

  • Stage Ia: In stage Ia, patients are offered hope for effective treatment, as the tumor site is limited to the outer layer of the pleura and is not likely to be covering the lung.
  • Stage Ib: In stage Ib, patients are offered hope for effective treatment, as the tumor site is still limited, though it has extended to both the parietal and visceral pleura
  • Stage II: In stage II, patients are offered hope for an extended survival time, though the tumor has spread into the lung or diaphragm
  • Stage III: Stage III indicates that the tumors have moved into other nearby areas of the body such as the chest wall, pericardium or lymph nodes. The patient has a much shortened life expectancy
  • Stage IV: This is the final stage and offers the worst prognosis. The tumors have crossed beyond the chest wall or pericardium and infiltrated other areas such as the heart, liver, or other organs.

Because mesothelioma’s symptoms take so long to appear, it is not at all unusual for patients to first be diagnosed when they are in Stage IV.

Getting Treated For Mesothelioma

Despite the fact that mesothelioma is a fatal disease, there are a number of treatments that have effectively been used to extend patients’ survival. The most common treatment being offered is a combination of radiation therapy, surgery and chemotherapy. This multi-modality approach has provided the bet results for those who are diagnosed in the disease’s early stages and for those who are in relatively good health to begin with. This is in large part due to the drain that surgery and other treatments put on the body: the stronger the patient is to begin with, the better their chances of responding well and bouncing back quickly.

The same treatments that are offered for those who are seeking extended survival are also offered to those in need of palliative treatment. Removing tumors through surgery or shrinking tumors through chemotherapy or radiation therapy may not offer more time to those who are diagnosed with Stage III or IV mesothelioma, but they can make a real difference in how comfortable they are in their final days.

Many patients choose to pursue alternative treatments such as herbal remedies, acupuncture, hypnosis, meditation, and yoga in addition to the standard medical protocols. These approaches may not extend survival, but have been shown to provide relief of some of the stress and pain that accompany this terrible disease.

Legal Help for Mesothelioma Victims

The American justice system has provided those who have been exposed to asbestos with a way to get justice and financial compensation for the damages that they have suffered.