Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals that can be separated into fibers which are strong, durable and resistant to heat and fire. They are also long, thin and flexible and can be woven into cloth. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that attacks the mesothelial cells which form the lining of the lungs, heart and abdomen.
Asbestos was discovered to be a convenient building material in the late 1800s. It presented countless uses and appeared in numerous industries from shipbuilding to construction and insulation. During the twentieth century, it is estimated that 30 million tons of asbestos were used in industrial sites, homes, schools, shipyards and commercial buildings in the U.S. In 1971, the first OSHA asbestos-exposure standard issued. In 1973, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned spray-on asbestos insulation as an air pollution hazard. In 1977, the first bill to limit the product liability of asbestos companies was introduced in Congress. In 1979, the U.S. EPA announced its intention to issue rule that banned all uses of asbestos. As public concern over asbestos became more widespread, the government began to regulate the use of asbestos in many industries. In the late 1970s, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of asbestos in wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces. Despite these asbestos regulation and control measures, many manufacturers continued to use asbestos in their products.
Asbestos fibers break apart easily and are most often inhaled or swallowed by victims. · Asbestos has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant.
The EPA and CPSC have banned several asbestos products.
Today, asbestos can still be found in older homes, pipe and furnace insulation, shingles, millboard, textured paints, and floor tiles.
Dangerous asbestos fibers are often overlooked because they are too small to be seen. Besides mesothelioma, asbestos can also cause asbestosis (a chronic lung ailment that can cause permanent lung damage) lung cancer, and pleural disease (a disease affecting the lung lining).
The scariest thing about asbestos-related health problems is that the symptoms usually do not become noticeable until many years after exposure.
Cases of Mesothelioma have been reported by people who were exposed to asbestos for as little as 1 - 2 months.
You do not have to have worked directly with asbestos to contract Mesothelioma. There have been several reported cases of family members developing the disease after contact with clothes and equipment brought home from a jobsite, or even contact with skin and hair of an exposed person.
Cigarette smokers who have been heavily exposed to asbestos are up to 90 times more likely to develop lung cancer than are non-exposed individuals who do not smoke. People who were exposed to asbestos at any time are urged not to smoke.
Diagnosing mesothelioma can be very difficult. Because the onset of the disease is very slow and the symptoms are not specific to Mesothelioma, frequent and in-depth testing must be done before a solid diagnosis is reached. The primary symptom is usually chest pain. Patients also complain of difficulty breathing and many are found to have fluid in the chest. Other symptoms include coughing, difficulty swallowing, blood in the lungs, abdomen pain, and significant weight loss.
A test called thoracoscopy uses an instrument called a thorascope to look inside the chest cavity. A test called a peritoneoscopy uses a tool called a peritoneoscope to look inside the abdomen. A chest CT-scan is another common tool doctors use for diagnosis of Mesothelioma. If abnormal tissue is not found at this point, most doctors will perform a biopsy (removing tissue to be analyzed under microscope) to locate cancerous cells.
Types and Stages of Mesothelioma
There are three types of mesothelioma: pleural, peritoneal and pericardial. In pleural mesothelioma, the cancer cells attack the pleura, or lung lining. In peritoneal mesothelioma, the cancer cells attack the abdomen lining. In pericardial mesothelioma, the cancer cells attack the heart lining.
Mesothelioma advances in 4 main stages:
- Stage I: The cancer is found in the lining of the lung and usually limited to only one side of the chest
- Stage II: The cancer has spread to other organs within the chest cavity, such as the heart or lymph nodes
- Stage III: The cancer expands to the other side of the chest, or it spreads into the abdominal organs. The lymph nodes outside the chest affected.
- Stage IV: The cancer spreads to different parts of the body beyond the chest area (liver, brain, bone, etc).
Mesothelioma is a terminal disease and there is currently no cure. Because of the rapid spread of this type of cancer, the estimated life span is typically 24 months after diagnosis. If the cancer is detected early and treated aggressively, about 50% of those patients reach the two-year mark, and about 20% survive five years. Factors such as the health of the patient, amount of asbestos exposure, and the stage of the disease are factors in the progression of the disease.
Living with Mesothelioma
There are countless resources for victims of this type of cancer. Hope and faith are driving forces in the fight against mesothelioma. The support networks, counseling services, and financial assistance organizations are plentiful, and people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma will not go without the help they need. Programs for patients, family members, caregivers and friends are set up in many states.
If you have been exposed to asbestos, contact the personal injury lawyers at Kalfus & Nachman online or by phone at (800) 361-0430. We offer free legal mesothelioma consultations to those in Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth, Roanoke, and Virginia Beach, Virginia.