Mesothelioma is an extremely deadly cancer of the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and internal organs. There is no cure, and the only known cause is exposure to asbestos. The cancer occurs most often in the pleura (membrane between the lungs and the ribs), but it can spread or occur locally in the lining of abdominal organs or heart, as well.
It has a long latency or “incubation” period, sometimes as much as 20 to 40 years. Workers exposed to airborne asbestos fibers before the dangers were well-publicized and better regulated (before the late 1970s) are still being diagnosed with this disease. Between 2,500 and 4,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.
How Is Mesothelioma Acquired?
When asbestos is mined, or when certain asbestos containing materials (ACMs) are processed, asbestos is sometimes released into the air in dust-sized fibers. Asbestos fibers can be airborne in a processing plant, in the environment nearby, or even in workers’ homes once they accidentally carry them there on their clothes. When the fibers are inhaled, they lodge in the lungs and nearby membranes and the body cannot get rid of them.
What Are Some Of The Warning Signs For Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma can develop for years without showing any signs. Sometimes it is discovered earlier when a chest X-ray is taken for unrelated reasons. If it progresses far enough for symptoms before it is discovered, those symptoms can include:
- abdominal pain or “fullness”
- chest pain
- difficulty swallowing
- fluid in the lining of the lungs
- lower back pain
- loss of appetite
- persistent coughing
- shortness of breath
Hasn’t Asbestos Been Banned?
No, but some of its applications have been banned. Spray-on insulation, preformed pipe insulation, and hot water heater insulation containing asbestos have been banned. Other uses, such as asbestos-cement corrugated and flat sheet, roofing felt, and auto brake components are not currently under ban in the U.S. Asbestos has many important heat-resistant features, but its processing has been poorly regulated in the past. Even though federal regulation of asbestos processing is now tighter than ever, there are still slip-ups. The bottom line is that even if asbestos were completely banned today, the long incubation period means mesothelioma would still be with us for years to come.
Do You Need To Work With Asbestos To Be At Risk?
No. Perhaps the most frightening aspect is that workers might unknowingly carry asbestos fibers into the home on their clothes—family members have contracted the disease simply from this low-level exposure. Also, you don’t have to work with asbestos or in an asbestos processing plant in order to inhale airborne fibers. Many workplaces are large complexes with one small section in which asbestos-containing materials or products are handled. A lack of proper workplace controls, such as proper ventilation, can sometimes mean airborne fibers drift elsewhere in a complex. Worse, the fibers can be airborne in the surrounding vicinity of a business in which ACMs are processed.
Do You Need To Be Exposed To Asbestos For Years To Be At Risk?
No. Short-term exposure has been proven to cause mesothelioma in many people. The fibers can be inhaled deeply enough on just one or two occasions for them to lodge permanently, deep within the lungs. The body cannot dispose of asbestos fibers. The frequency of exposure, and the amount to which someone is exposed, is not a sure way to predict the onset of the disease. Any cancer can have a faster onset due to various factors, known and unknown (smoking, genetic predisposition, etc.). As for this rare form of cancer, any person who inhaled asbestos fibers can contract mesothelioma. Contact our lawyers today for an immediate and confidential evaluation of your case.