Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. It typically attacks the mesothelium, the thin protective membrane surrounding the lungs, heart and abdominal cavity. Approximately 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed every year in the United States, and nearly all of those can be attributed to job-related asbestos exposure.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fibrous substance that was once commonly used in textiles, construction and the shipbuilding industry. It was highly valued due to its high resistance to heat, pressure and corrosion from chemicals. It also has decent tensile strength and makes a good insulator against electricity. Unfortunately, the same durability that once made asbestos such a valuable commodity also makes it very dangerous. When asbestos is disturbed, microscopic fibers can break away and be inhaled. When these fibers enter the lungs, they cause damage and the formation of scar tissue. The fibers can remain in the lungs for several years, which is the primary reason why malignant mesothelioma can develop as long as 50 years after asbestos exposure.
Commercial use of asbestos has been phased out in the United States and is now a highly controlled substance. However, cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related health conditions are still being diagnosed to this day.
How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma usually affects those who have been exposed to asbestos in workplaces such as industrial settings, shipyards, auto repair shops and construction sites. Asbestos exposure can also occur in old buildings that were made from materials containing asbestos. Mesothelioma usually develops after long-term exposure to the substance, although since asbestos is so toxic it has been known to cause cancer after even short-term exposure.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled or swallowed, they can stay inside the body for years without breaking down. Eventually, these fibers can cause scarring, inflammation and genetic damage. The pleura or the protective lining around the lungs are especially vulnerable to asbestos fibers, although the lining around the abdominal cavity is often damaged as well. The biological damage caused by these fibers can develop into mesothelioma over a period of decades.
Some of the symptoms of mesothelioma include difficulty breathing, pain under the rib cage, swelling or lumps in the abdomen and unexplained weight loss. Many of these symptoms are mistaken for lung cancer, especially if the cancer affects the lining of the lungs.
The early stages of mesothelioma exhibit very few symptoms. Because of this, patients can live with the disease for years without realizing it. Many people won’t experience any symptoms until the disease’s later stages. By that time, there is little that can be done to treat the cancer.
Despite the grim prognosis for mesothelioma patients, there are treatment options available. Curative surgery may be effective during the early stages of the disease, while palliative surgery can help relieve symptoms in the later stages. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also be effective in killing malignant cells and shrinking tumors. Palliative therapy is used during every stage of the disease to help relieve symptoms, although it doesn’t treat the disease itself. Immunotherapy and other experiemental treatments have also been used to treat mesothelioma.
Patients who have been exposed to asbestos and suspect that they have mesothelioma are advised to speak to their doctor as soon as possible. Symptoms in the early stages of the disease are very mild, but it may be too late for those who wait until more serious symptoms appear.
This article was written together with Travis Guerrero, a health and nutrition expert who looks forward to helping you live a healthier life. He writes this on behalf of Shrader Law your number one choice for representation for cases involving Mesothelioma and Asbestos. Check out their website today and see how they can give you the best representation.