What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in which cancerous cells are found in
the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body's internal
organs. Cancer cells can also metastasize (spread) from their original site to
other parts of the body. Most cases of mesothelioma begin in the pleura (lungs)
or peritoneum (abdomen).
Although the reported cases in the US is now over 3,000 a year, mesothelioma
is still a relatively rare cancer. A major risk factor for mesothelioma is
exposure to asbestos and 70% to 80% of cases have asbestos exposure. However,
some individuals without any known exposure to asbestos develop mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma symptoms usually do not appear until 30 plus years after
exposure to asbestos. Shortness of breath and pain in the chest due to an
accumulation of fluid in the pleura are often symptoms of pleural mesothelioma.
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include weight loss and abdominal pain and
swelling due to a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. If the cancer has spread
beyond the mesothelium to other parts of the body, symptoms may include pain,
trouble swallowing, or swelling of the neck or face.
Treatment for mesothelioma depends on the location of the cancer, the stage
of the disease, and the patient's age and general health. Standard treatment
options include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Surgery includes removing
part of the lining of the chest or abdomen. Pleural mesothelioma patients may
have part of the lung removed in an operation called a pneumonectomy. Radiation
therapy uses high energy rays to kill the cancer and chemotherapy is the use of
anticancer drugs to kill cancer hells. Sometimes, these treatments are combined.
Malignant Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer. Malignant Mesothelioma
occurs when when malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the sac lining the
chest (pleura) or abdomen (peritoneum).
What are the risk factors for mesothelioma?
Working with asbestos is the major risk factor for mesothelioma. A history of
asbestos exposure at work is reported in about 70 percent to 80 percent of all
cases. However, mesothelioma has been reported in some individuals without any
known exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos is the name of a group of minerals that occur naturally as masses of
strong, flexible fibers that can be separated into thin threads and woven.
Asbestos has been widely used in many industrial products, including cement,
brake linings, roof shingles, flooring products, textiles, and insulation. If
tiny asbestos particles float in the air, especially during the manufacturing
process, they may be inhaled or swallowed, and can cause serious health
problems. In addition to mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos increases the risk
of lung cancer, asbestosis (a noncancerous, chronic lung ailment), and other
cancers, such as those of the larynx and kidney. Smoking does not appear to
increase the risk of mesothelioma. However, the combination of smoking and
asbestos exposure significantly increases a person's risk of developing cancer
of the air passageways in the lung.
Who is at increased risk for developing mesothelioma?
Asbestos has been mined and used commercially since the late 1800s. Its use
greatly increased during World War II. Since the early 1940s, millions of
workers around the world have been exposed to asbestos dust. Initially, the
risks associated with asbestos exposure were not known. However, an increased
risk of developing mesothelioma was later found among shipyard workers, people
who work in asbestos mines and mills, producers of asbestos products, workers in
the heating and construction industries, and other tradespeople.
The risk of asbestos-related disease increases with heavier exposure to
asbestos and longer exposure time. However, some individuals with only brief
exposures have developed mesothelioma. On the other hand, not all workers who
are heavily exposed develop asbestos-related diseases.
There is some evidence that family members and others living with asbestos
workers have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma, and possibly other
asbestos-related diseases. This risk may be the result of exposure to asbestos
dust brought home on the clothing and hair of asbestos workers. To reduce the
chance of exposing family members to asbestos fibers, asbestos workers are
usually required to shower and change their clothing before leaving the
What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?
Symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear until 30 to 50 years after exposure
to asbestos. Shortness of breath and pain in the chest due to an accumulation of
fluid in the pleura are often symptoms of pleural mesothelioma. Symptoms of
peritoneal mesothelioma include weight loss and abdominal pain and swelling due
to a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. Other symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma
may include bowel obstruction, blood clotting abnormalities, anemia, and fever.
If the cancer has spread beyond the mesothelium to other parts of the body,
symptoms may include pain, trouble swallowing, or swelling of the neck or face.
These symptoms may be caused by mesothelioma or by other, less serious
conditions. It is important to see a doctor about any of these symptoms. Only a
doctor can make a diagnosis.
How is mesothelioma diagnosed?
Diagnosing mesothelioma is often difficult, because the symptoms are similar
to those of a number of other conditions. Diagnosis begins with a review of the
patient's medical history, including any history of asbestos exposure. A
complete physical examination may be performed, including x-rays of the chest or
abdomen and lung function tests. A CT (or CAT) scan or an MRI may also be
useful. A CT scan is a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. In an MRI, a powerful magnet
linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of areas inside the body.
These pictures are viewed on a monitor and can also be printed.
A biopsy is needed to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma. In a biopsy, a
surgeon or a medical oncologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and
treating cancer) removes a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope
by a pathologist. A biopsy may be done in different ways, depending on where the
abnormal area is located. If the cancer is in the chest, the doctor may perform
a thoracoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor makes a small cut through the
chest wall and puts a thin, lighted tube called a thoracoscope into the chest
between two ribs. Thoracoscopy allows the doctor to look inside the chest and
obtain tissue samples. If the cancer is in the abdomen, the doctor may perform a
peritoneoscopy. To obtain tissue for examination, the doctor makes a small
opening in the abdomen and inserts a special instrument called a peritoneoscope
into the abdominal cavity. If these procedures do not yield enough tissue, more
extensive diagnostic surgery may be necessary. If the diagnosis is mesothelioma,
the doctor will want to learn the stage (or extent) of the disease. Staging
involves more tests in a careful attempt to find out whether the cancer has
spread and, if so, to which parts of the body. Knowing the stage of the disease
helps the doctor plan treatment.
Mesothelioma is described as localized if the cancer is found only on the
membrane surface where it originated. It is classified as advanced if it has
spread beyond the original membrane surface to other parts of the body, such as
the lymph nodes, lungs, chest wall, or abdominal organs.
FURTHER INFORMATION AND ASSISTANCE
Consulting with a solicitor in relation to a possible claim for damages is
perceived as a daunting experience. This perception is often made worse when the
client has contracted an asbestos condition, and in particular one of a
malignant nature. However, it is important that you and your family are fully
aware of your rights so that an informed decision can be made.
It is critically important that you seek legal advice from a solicitor
experienced in Asbestos Litigation.
Please call AussieLegal on 1300 728 200 for assistance and a
referral to a recommended specialist law firm.