Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive form of cancer that is typically caused by asbestos exposure. The dangers of this cancer are great, and the fact that it can take decades to develop leaves many people with their health hanging in the balance. Fortunately, a little information can go a long way. Read on to learn more about this disease, including its causes and treatments, as well as what legal rights and ramifications are involved with asbestos exposure-related cases.
Types and Causes
There are three main types of mesothelioma, determined based on where the tumor initially develops. Although lung development is the most common, it is not the only place the cancer can occur. The mesothelium, which is the area affected by this cancer, is found in the lungs, the abdomen, and the heart. As such, mesothelioma can be found in all of these places, as well.
- Pleural Mesothelioma: Cancer that develops in the mesothelium of the lungs and chest, which accounts for 80-85% of all cases. Pleural tumors are caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.
- Peritoneal Mesothelioma: This cancer is caused by asbestos ingestion, which usually occurs by inhaling the fibers, coughing them up, and then swallowing them. This diagnosis accounts for about 10-15% of all mesothelioma cases, and occurs in the mesothelium around the abdomen, rather than affecting the lungs.
- Pericardial Mesothelioma: This occurs when tumors are found in the mesothelium surrounding the heart. Only accounting for about one percent of all cases, this specific cancer is not usually diagnosed until after death. Unlike other types, the specific cause of this condition is still unknown. Only about 25% of patients have a history of asbestos exposure, so the relationship between asbestos exposure and this type of mesothelioma is still being studied along with other potential causes.
Testicular mesothelioma is another possible diagnosis, but this condition is extremely rare. Less than one percent of cases diagnosed are of this type, so there is little information about the cause of the condition or how it may relate to asbestos exposure, if at all.
As it stands, asbestos exposure is the only confirmed cause of most types of mesothelioma. Cases involving patients who have never been exposed to asbestos are rare, so the available information on other potential causes is limited. Research is ongoing, but there is still much to learn.
The earliest symptoms of a condition like mesothelioma are going to be limited, at best. The first signs a person will usually see appear like common conditions, such as flu-like symptoms, or chest pain in the case of pericardial conditions. Each type of this cancer has its own symptoms to consider. Unfortunately, because the condition takes 20-50 years to develop and show itself, symptoms don’t often appear until the tumors have progressed to a later stage.
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
- Fluid buildup in the lungs
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Dry cough
- Weight loss
- Difficulty swallowing
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms
- Abdominal fluid buildup
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bowel irregularity or irritation
- Abdominal pain
Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms
- Irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
- General fatigue
As you can see, the symptoms for this condition are similar from one type to the next. The biggest variance is the area of the body in which symptoms occur. For example, fluid buildup is a symptom of all types of this disease, but the fluid will be found in different places based on which type of cancer is present and which organs are affected.
Testing and Diagnosis
Ultimately, most patients are diagnosed after frequent visits for a persistent cough, shortness of breath and fatigue, or pneumonia-like symptoms. Symptoms can appear without warning, but when they are persistent a doctor will usually order further testing to determine what type and stage of cancer is present. A series of tests will be used to rule out other less serious conditions first. Then, doctors will use diagnostic testing to identify the location and type of cancer, as well as to determine its severity and how far it has spread. Tests used include:
- CT Scan
- PET Scan
- Fluid Biopsy
- Tissue Biopsy
As with most cancers, mesothelioma is typically approached with a multimodal, or combination, treatment plan. Depending on the location and stage of the cancer, the treatment will either focus on extending the life expectancy of a patient or at least providing palliative care for comfort in the late stages of the disease.
There are a lot of hurdles in mesothelioma treatment, including some that have yet to be overcome. For starters, this disease remains dormant and unnoticed for decades, but progresses so fast once symptoms appear that it is often hard to catch it in time to do much beyond palliative care. The best thing that you can do, as soon as you are diagnosed, is to find a mesothelioma specialist that can assist you in creating an effective treatment plan for your individual diagnosis.
Specialty doctors understand the complex nature of this cancer and may have knowledge of clinical trials and newer advancements in treatment than a general oncologist. They have also done extensive research on things like immunotherapy and other emerging treatments, perhaps offering patients a much longer life expectancy potential than existing chemotherapy and surgical options.
Legal Implications of an Asbestos-Related Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Asbestos was used for decades in various products, mostly due to its heat resistance and durability. Despite being confirmed as a dangerous exposure risk in the 1920s, the use of asbestos was quite significant in the U.S. from the 1930s until the 1970s. This mineral has a lot of valuable properties, and as such was used in things like:
- Construction Materials
- Adhesives and Sealants
- Asbestos Cement for Plumbing, Roofing and Other Applications
- Baby Powder
- Fireproofing and Fire-Retardant Products
- Automotive Parts
This material that was once thought to be a new “wonder material” is now responsible for thousands of deaths, and will likely cause thousands more. For those exposed to asbestos in the workplace or through other means, there is likely compensation available.
Legal claims and asbestos trust funds are the two most common avenues for seeking compensation or legal recourse against corporations responsible for exposing someone to mesothelioma. Almost every mesothelioma patient is a victim of corporate negligence, and has the legal right to file a lawsuit against the responsible parties. Those who are wary of the lawsuit option can consider setting up an asbestos trust fund.
In order to receive compensation from one of these funds, set up by the companies responsible for the exposure to asbestos in the first place, victims must provide proof of their exposure. This includes detailed evidence of the diagnosis, exposure, and medical history. A mesothelioma lawyer can help build strong evidence so that victims can obtain their fair share of the trust funds.
Veterans are one of the highest population of those affected by this cancer. As such, the VA has set up a special claims filing process for veterans through their organization. Veterans can file a traditional lawsuit or trust fund claim along with a VA claim, which offers disability compensation, dependent care benefits, and VA pensions for eligible claims.
There is no cure for mesothelioma, and currently no known cause other than asbestos exposure. Therefore, if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with this condition, you need to contact a lawyer to get the compensation you are entitled to. Plus, your lawsuit or collection of funds from the trusts will help the continued efforts to hold corporations accountable for all the damage that they have caused by exposing millions of Americans to this substance.
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author. This content has not been paid for by any advertiser nor does WhipCancer.org recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. WhipCancer.org does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and information contained on this site is intended for informational purposes only. Please seek the advice of your physician or other professional healthcare provider with any questions you may have.