Mesothelioma is a form of cancer
that is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. In this disease, malignant cells develop in the mesothelium, a protective lining that covers most of the body's internal organs. Its most common site is the pleura (outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall), but it may also occur in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity), the heart, the pericardium (a sac that surrounds the heart) or tunica vaginalis.
Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles, or they have been exposed to asbestos dust and fiber in other ways. Washing the clothes of a family member who worked with asbestos can also put a person at risk for developing mesothelioma. Unlike lung cancer, there is no association between mesothelioma and smoking, but smoking greatly increases risk of other asbestos-induced cancer.Compensation via asbestos funds or lawsuits is an important issue in mesothelioma .
The symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath due to pleural effusion (fluid between the lung and the chest wall) or chest wall pain, and general symptoms such as weight loss. The diagnosis may be suspected with chest X-ray and CT scan, and is confirmed with a biopsy (tissue sample) and microscopic examination. A thoracoscopy (inserting a tube with a camera into the chest) can be used to take biopsies. It allows the introduction of substances such as talc to obliterate the pleural space (called pleurodesis), which prevents more fluid from accumulating and pressing on the lung. Despite treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy or sometimes surgery, the disease carries a poor prognosis. Research about screening tests for the early detection of mesothelioma is ongoing.
Types of Mesothelioma
Types of Mesothelioma include pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma and pericardial mesothelioma. Mesothelioma cancer affects the mesothelial tissue lining of the body's three largest cavities; the pleura (lung cavity), the peritoneum (abdominal cavity) and the pericardium (heart sac). A type of malignant mesothelioma is based on the section of the mesothelium that it affects.
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of malignant mesothelioma (accounting for an approximate 75% of all documented cases of the disease) and affects the section of the mesothelium called the pleura. Although the most common type of malignant mesothelioma, the disease is still somewhat of a rarity. As a result, pleural mesothelioma is often confused with other types of diseases, such as lung cancer and viral pneumonia. Lung cancer can be caused by asbestos (asbestos lung cancer), though it differs from pleural mesothelioma in that it is a malignancy of the lung tissue itself, as opposed to pleural mesothelioma which is a malignancy of the tissue casing of the lungs. Viral pneumonia shares certain symptomatic similarities with pleural mesothelioma and is often misdiagnosed as such.
The most common presenting symptom of pleural malignant mesothelioma is chronic chest pain. A buildup of fluid inside the pleural space can cause severe and chronic chest pains; this is called pleural effusion. Steps can be taken to drain the fluid and relieve the pain (with the possibility of recurrence) or surgery can be performed to close the pleural space (with virtually no possibility of recurrence). Some of the other notable symptoms associated with pleural mesothelioma include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic coughing
- Weight loss
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Pericardial mesothelioma is much less common than malignant mesothelioma of the pleura or peritoneum. In fact there are only about 150 cases ever reported in the medical literature. It affects the section of the mesothelium called the pericardium (the mesothelial lining of the heart). People in the fourth to seventh decades of life are most likely to have this cancer, and there is a 2:1 male to female ratio. Currently, surgical excision (removal) of the pericardium is the treatment for pericardial mesothelioma, primarily to lessen symptoms of constriction around the heart.
Symptoms that are associated with pericardial mesothelioma include:
- Chest pain
- Fluid buildup around the heart
- A mass in the space between the lungs
- Abnormal or difficult breathing (dyspnea)
- Chronic coughing
- Irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
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Mesothelioma of the Tunica Vaginalis Testis
Mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis testis is the least common type of malignant mesothelioma (amounting to less than 100 of all documented cases of the disease) and affects the section of the mesothelium called the tunica vaginalis testis (the mesothelial lining around the testes). Most patients are in their 50s or older, but about ten percent of the patients are younger than 25 years. Patients generally present with a hydrocele (an accumulation of serous fluid in a sac-like cavity (as the scrotum)) or hernia. Treatment is usually a high inguinal orchiectomy (surgical excision of the entire affected testis through an incision in the lower abdomen - called also orchidectomy). Prognosis is somewhat better than for pleural mesothelioma.
Symptoms that are associated with this cancer include:
- Hydrocele (a fluid filled sac attached to a testicle)
- Suspected hernia
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Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common type of malignant mesothelioma (accounting for an approximate 10% to 20% of all documented cases of the disease) and affects the section of the mesothelium called the peritoneum (the mesothelial lining of the abdomen). Peritoneal mesothelioma is most often caused by the ingestion of carcinogenic asbestos fibers. Inhaled asbestos fibers can become lodged in mucous lining the mouth and esophagus. Once swallowed, it travels through the digestive system where it can potentially become lodged and develop into a tumor.
Some of the notable symptoms that are associated with peritoneal mesothelioma include:
- Abdominal pain (resulting from fluid buildup in peritoneal space)
- Weight loss
- Abdominal mass
- Lowered red blood cell count (anemia)
- Bowel obstruction
- Blood clotting problems
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Mesothelioma Cell Types
The three cell or subtypes of mesothelioma, epithelial, bi-phasic (mixed) and sarcomatoid, are different not only in their aggressiveness and response to treatment but in their appearance under the microscope as well.
Although immunohistochemical staining has improved over the years and it now plays an important role in the diagnosis of mesothelioma, for many scientists, electron microscopy is considered the standard by which mesothelioma is differentiated from other forms of cancer. This is particularly true in the differential diagnosis of epithelial mesothelioma versus adenocarcinoma.
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Mesothelioma causes are limited to direct and secondary asbestos exposure. Asbestos exposure is known to be responsible for a variety of health issues, including:
- Malignant mesothelioma
- Asbestos lung cancer
- Diffuse pleural thickening
Asbestos as a cause of mesothelioma was discovered in connection with occupational exposure to the mineral. Asbestos miners, factory workers, shipyard workers and construction workers were the most likely to contract the deadly disease and amongst the first victims. Mesothelioma is a latent disease that can take anywhere from 30 to 40 years to become symptomatic. A number of cases of mesothelioma where therefore reported within similar windows of time, displaying similar occupational backgrounds. Establishing the link back to asbestos (which was already linked to a number of aforementioned diseases) was a relatively simple task.
Although other causes of mesothelioma have not been ruled out, asbestos exposure is the only known cause thus far.
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Mesothelioma diagnosis typically begins with a sufferer's visit to the doctor complaining of chronic chest pain. This pain is caused as a result of a buildup of fluid inside the pleural space; this is called pleural effusion and is the most common presenting symptom of malignant mesothelioma.
Preliminary mesothelioma detection can be achieved through a chest imagery scan (CT scan, x-ray); however, mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as viral pneumonia at this stage because of certain symptomatic similarities between the two. The only way to definitively verify a suspected case of malignant mesothelioma is through a biopsy.
A biopsy is a relatively minor procedure (dependent on the location of the tumor) during which a small section of suspect tissue is removed. The removed section is examined by a histopathologist, an expert in the study of diseased tissue. Histopathological examination can confirm a case of malignant mesothelioma while also typing and staging it. Understanding the type and stage can help doctors suggest the best of treatment.
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Mesothelioma Traditional Treatment Options
There are three traditional ways to treat malignant mesothelioma:
- Radiation therapy (radiotherapy)
Doctors will often use a combination of two or more treatments (chemotherapy or radiotherapy is commonly used to stunt the growth of a malignant tumor prior to a surgical procedure).
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What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral that consists of very fine microscopic, needle-shaped fibers. It is composed of silicon, oxygen, hydrogen and other metal ions. Asbestos fibers are strong, flexible, resist heat, acids, and friction and are virtually indestructible. Asbestos has been used in older plastics, paper products and floor tiles. In most cases, asbestos fibers are mixed with a material that binds them together producing asbestos containing material. Many industrial products are made with asbestos materials including sealants, thermal insulation, fireproofing acoustical texture products, textile and cloth products (asbestos gloves, blanket etc.), Gaskets and packing, Ceiling tiles, wallboard, siding and roofing and more.
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If you suspect you have been exposed to asbestos, get tested.
I highly recommend that you consult with your primary care physician for an x-ray or CT scan referral. It has been estimated that over 30 million people have had asbestos exposure in the past 42 years. There are very small amounts of asbestos in the air we breath every day and most of us have asbestos fibers in our lungs. Construction workers, plumbers, pipe fitters, boilermakers, insulators, refractory workers, shipyard workers and others whose work brings them in contact with asbestos or asbestos containing material, risk occupational exposure by inhaling airborne asbestos fibers. There is also a risk to family members who breath asbestos fibers from the clothes of those workers.
Common symptoms of asbestos exposure are shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, a dry crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling and weight loss. The detectable symptoms of asbestos exposure can appear as early as 15 years after exposure, and the reappear at any time during one's life. This makes it very difficult to associate one with the other and is why annual asbestos detection tests are recommended.
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Those dealing with asbestos and mesothelioma face a number of challenges, including the tremendous costs of treatment. If you were unknowingly exposed to harmful levels of asbestos, you have legal rights and there is help available for you.
Deciding which law firm to represent you and your case is very important. Choosing the right law firm will also be important to your settlement. You are entitled to an experienced mesothelioma law firm who has a track record of success in asbestos lawsuits.
It is not uncommon for there to be 10-20 parties that are named in a asbestos lawsuit that are located across the United States. For example, a worker in California may have been exposed to asbestos from asbestos products shipped from Libby, Montana or from an iron ore plant in St. Paul Minnesota. This is why it is very important to obtain an experienced asbestos mesothelioma law firm that knows all of the companies in each state who have responsibility for your asbestos exposure.
If you are a grieving family member or executor of the will of a person who has died from asbestos-related disease or mesothelioma, you may be eligible to file a claim as well.
We help with you file Mesothelioma and Asbestos-related claims in each state
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