Understanding Mesothelioma

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Support and help for patients and their families

What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that develops in the cells of the mesothelium, the protective lining of the body’s organs. The location of the lining determines the specific name of the Mesothelioma.  The lining that surrounds and protects the lungs is called the pleura. When cancer affects this lining surrounding the lungs, it is called pleural Mesothelioma. Peritoneal Mesothelioma is cancer of the peritoneum, which is the lining of the abdomen. Whereas many cancers are solid tumors, Mesothelioma is characterized as being a diffuse malignancy or a cancer that spreads throughout a tissue. This characteristic is important to the method of treatment. 

How do you get Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can become lodged in the air passages and linings of the body’s organs. These fibers can cause inflammation and scarring, damage to the cells, and eventually lead to the development of Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is not contagious and is usually found in older adults.

What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a natural mineral with very fine, needle-shaped crystals. Asbestos fibers are thinner than a human hair and unable to be seen with the human eye.  Due to its innate ability to withstand heat, its resistance to chemicals and its insulating properties, asbestos has many uses. Its fibers can mix with materials such as cement to make products fire-retardant.

There are essentially two types of asbestos, chrysotile and amphibole Chrysotile is known for its long and flexible fibers. There are five forms of amphibole asbestos. These include; actinolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, crcodiolite and amosite asbestos. Unlike the flexible fibers of chrysotile, amphilbole asbestos fibers are brittle. The mining of a type of amphibole asbestos, tremolite, has exposed workers and residents that live near the mining and manufacturing plants to be exposed to large amounts of asbestos in the air.  This amphibole asbestos has been used in building materials such as tiles and home and building insulation.

Why is Asbestos a Health Hazard?                                                  
Asbestos fibers are easily separated which allows them to be readily inhaled or ingested. These suspended fibers can travel into the lung airway system where they can not be coughed or breathed out. These sharp fibers can travel through lung tissues and settle in the lining that surrounds the lungs. If the fibers are ingested, they can travel to the digestive system and the membranes surrounding the abdomen. Once these fibers are trapped in the linings of the body’s organs, inflammation and subsequent cell damage begins.

Prolonged exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of lung cancer, asbestosis (a lung disease that causes shortness of breath and lung damage), and developing Mesothelioma.  The Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have all classified asbestos as a known human carcinogen or substance that causes cancer.

Who is at risk of developing Mesothelioma?
Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos is at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. Since asbestos is present in the air, soil and water, everyone is exposed to asbestos at some time in their life.
The people most likely to have been exposed to asbestos include those who received occupational exposure from the construction and manufacturing industries. This includes plumbers and demolition, electricians, automobile and construction workers to name a few. The people most likely to develop Mesothelioma are those who were exposed to asbestos for long periods of time, exposed to asbestos on a regular basis and exposed to large concentrations of asbestos fibers. Millions of workers have been exposed to asbestos on a regular basis. However, today’s government regulations are helping people to face less risk than they did in the past.
In addition to exposure to asbestos, other factors determine whether an individual will develop an asbestos-related disease. The factors include how much asbestos the person was exposed to and for how long, personal risk factors such as smoking or lung-disease, and the type and chemical makeup of the asbestos the individual was exposed to.
It is important to note that the risk of developing Mesothelioma does not decrease with time after exposure to asbestos
How do I know if I have Mesothelioma?
See your doctor immediately if you have any of the above risk factors for developing Mesothelioma to learn if you have an asbestos-caused disease. This includes working in industries that use asbestos-containing materials. However, remember exposure to asbestos dust and fibers can also come from simply washing the clothes of someone who worked with asbestos or living near asbestos factories or mines.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma may not develop until years after exposure. The symptoms are similar to many other medical conditions so an evaluation of the patient’s medical history and exposure to asbestos must be assessed in addition to the following symptoms:
 Weight loss
 Loss of appetite
 Fatigue or low red blood cell count
 Shortness of breath or any respiratory problems
 Difficulty swallowing
 Blood in the fluid coughed up from the lungs (sputum)

Your doctor will use diagnostic methods such as X-rays, CT and MRI scans to obtain pictures of the lungs. He/she may also order a bronchoscopy to detect fibers in the lungs or a biopsy to detect asbestos fibers in the lung tissue.

How Common is Mesothelioma?
According to the American Cancer Society, 2,000 to 3,000 cases of Mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States every year. This accounts for approximately 3% of all cancers diagnosed. Mesothelioma occurs more frequently in men than in women, most probably due to exposure in the work environment. Some studies show the number of Mesothelioma cancers is on the rise. This could be due to the older homes and buildings built in the past that used asbestos and exposed many of people to it. Since it often takes up to 40 years for the disease to develop, many of these cases are just now being diagnosed.

I’ve been diagnosed with Mesothelioma, what do I do now?
After being diagnosed you and your doctor should discuss treatment options to determine how you will manage your disease. There are also many patient and family resources such as support groups and message boards that can assist you during this difficult period.

Next you should protect your legal rights. Call the Mulligan Law Firm and speak with one of our attorneys. You may be entitled to compensation for your asbestos-related illness. Your claim may involve a time limit known as a statue of limitations, so it is important that you call as soon as possible to discuss your case.

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