Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that primarily affects the lining of the lungs, but can also affect the heart, abdomen and other organs. Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 cases of mesothelioma cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, comprising around .3 percent of all cancer diagnoses. The average age at diagnosis is 62 years of age. Diagnosis of mesolthelioma occurs about four times more frequently in men than in women.
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Exposure to asbestos is the leading cause of mesothelioma cancer. Exposure can occur by either inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers, which typically become airborne after becoming dislodged from asbestos-containing products. When these microscopic fibers are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lining of the lungs and cause pleural mesothelioma. When ingested, the fibers can become lodged in the lining of the abdomen and lead to peritoneal mesothelioma.
Working with asbestos is the main cause of mesothelioma. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of people who get mesothelioma were at some point in their lives heavily exposed to asbestos at work. Asbestos is a group of minerals that has been used widely in the U.S. since the 1940s. It is used in cement, brake linings, roof shingles, flooring products, textiles, and insulation. If tiny asbestos particles float in the air, people breathe them in or swallow them. This is especially dangerous in the manufacturing process. Asbestos particles cause several cancers, including mesothelioma. Shipyard workers, people who work in asbestos mines and mills, producers of asbestos products, workers in the heating and construction industries, and other tradespeople including boilermen, enginemen, machinists, pipefitters, and construction workers are all at a higher risk for mesothelioma. Further, countless numbers of Navy personnel, shipyard workers and aircraft mechanics were exposed to asbestos products in the course of their military service during World War II and in the years following. Fire and engine rooms aboard ships typically had the highest exposure because of the insulation products necessary in these high-heat areas. But pipe coverings throughout the ship were covered with asbestos insulation as well, and these asbestos laden pipes ran inches above the bunks of military personnel in sleeping quarters. Ship crews also generally lived and worked aboard ships during routine maintenance operations and sometimes while their ships were overhauled in dry docks.
It may take 30-50 years after someone is exposed to asbestos before any symptoms of mesothelioma appear, so most people with it are over the age of 65. Mostly men get the disease, but women can also get mesothelioma. It is most common in whites. Scientists believe that smoking does not increase the risk of mesothelioma. Combining smoking and asbestos exposure, though, greatly increases your risk of developing lung cancer.
No. Though direct exposure to asbestos containing products presents the greatest risk of developing mesothelioma later in life, secondary exposure to asbestos - which occurs when someone occupationally exposed to asbestos brings home the toxic fibers on their clothing, skin and hair - can also lead to mesothelioma. There are many documented cases, for example, of women who regularly washed the work clothes of their husbands being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
In addition to malignant mesothelioma, the most common asbestos-related conditions among workers or family members exposed to this devastating carcinogen are asbestosis and lung cancer.
Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos dust. The disease produces inflammation and scarring of the lungs. The scarring can severely compromise a person's health and in severe cases can be fatal. Asbestosis also can also be an early symptom of mesothelioma, a more serious asbestos-related cancer.
Asbestos exposure can also cause lung cancer. The combination of asbestos exposure and cigarette smoking is especially deadly. Scientific studies published by the U.S. Surgeon General indicate that people who smoke and were exposed to asbestos on the job are 90 times as likely to develop lung cancer as people who smoke but were never exposed to asbestos.
Victims of mesothelioma and their families are entitled to compensation for their illness and injury because manufacturers of asbestos-containing products often knew about the dangers of asbestos, yet failed to warn their employees and consumers of their products. In fact, scientific studies dating back to the 1930s linked asbestos exposure to cancer.
Evidence shows that these companies did not advise workers of the potential hazards of their products, nor did they make any effort to put warning labels on the products to inform workers and consumers of the dangers of asbestos. As a result of this failure to warn, thousands of workers have developed mesothelioma over the past century. Many have died, and many others face staggering medical bills as their health continues to deteriorate.