Mesothelioma Series: Part I

What is Mesothelioma? 

We’ve all seen the commercials about mesothelioma on TV, but unless it has affected us personally, few of us know what mesothelioma is and how devastating this disease can be for individuals and their families.

Mesothelioma is an insidious disease with a long latency period, meaning it often takes decades to develop—typically 20-50 years from initial exposure. It is a form of cancer that affects the mesothelium, the lining that protects the lungs, abdomen, heart, and other major organs in the body. A malignant tumor of the mesothelium is called a malignant mesothelioma, often shortened to simply, mesothelioma. There are four main types of mesothelioma:

  1. Mesothelioma of the lungs: the most common form of mesothelioma affecting about 80% of patients, is called pleural mesothelioma
  2. Mesothelioma of the abdomen: known as peritoneal mesothelioma.
  3. Mesothelioma associated with the heart: called pericardial mesothelioma, referring to the pericardial cavity around the heart. 
  4. Less common forms of the disease (less than 1% of cases) are papillary and testicular mesothelioma, affecting the ovaries and testicles. 

A mesothelioma diagnosis is a life-changing event with emotional, physical, and financial consequences. Learn more about the medical aspects of mesothelioma at the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association and read more about diagnosis and treatment options here.

How Do You Get Mesothelioma?

The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. 

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that is both durable and fire-proof and has been used for decades in the manufacture of various commercial and industrial products, including textiles for clothing. Asbestos was first used in construction in the mid-1800s, and it was as early as the 1930s that harmful effects associated with its use were first documented. It wasn’t until 1989, however, that the EPA announced it would phase out the use of asbestos in almost all products in the U.S., but by that time, millions of workers had been exposed. 

Asbestos fibers create dust or powder when handled, which is then inhaled or ingested during a workday. These fibers can lodge in internal organs, leading to the development of tumors. Workers across a range of industries have been exposed regularly to asbestos-containing materials, including those in: 

  • Shipping
  • Plumbing
  • Construction
  • Aircraft Maintenance 
  • Auto Shops
  • Paper Mills
  • Pipefitting 
  • Powerhouses
  • and other workplaces

Unfortunately, many individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma are Veterans

Common products used and handled during a typical workday include:

  • Construction materials such as sheetrock and wallboard
  • Roofing, shingles, and siding
  • Flooring and tiles
  • Pipe covering and insulation
  • Electrical cables and wire
  • Boilers, pumps, and generators
  • Gaskets, valves, and packing material
  • Rope, wick, and cord
  • Protective clothing and textiles
  • Automotive materials such as brake pads and transmission plates
  • Adhesives, cement, and sealants
  • Raw asbestos

Despite the early warnings, manufacturers and installers of these materials continued to sell and install asbestos products for decades without warning workers of the terrible dangers they faced. The EPA estimates that from 1940 to 1980, 27.5 million Americans were exposed to asbestos at work. While those exposed at work are at the highest risk, family members can also be at risk via exposure to fibers brought home on the clothing of the primary individual.

What Are The Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma develops years, often decades, after the initial asbestos exposure. Since many of the symptoms are similar to other less dangerous illnesses, such as pneumonia, flu, or intestinal issues, it often goes undiagnosed until it has reached the later stages of the disease. 

Symptoms can vary based on where the tumor is located and at what stage the cancer is but can include:

Pleural mesothelioma (lungs)

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Chest pains
  • Lower back pain
  • Coughing blood
  • Sensory loss
  • Cough (regular or dry)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating (profusely)
  • Weight loss
Peritoneal mesothelioma (abdominal)

  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hernia
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Feeling full early
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain (any form)
Pericardial mesothelioma (heart)

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Dry cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Right shoulder pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the legs or lower extremities

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms we strongly encourage them to seek medical advice, especially if you suspect they’ve been exposed to asbestos in their lifetime. 

Stay tuned for the next installment of our blog series on mesothelioma, which focuses on the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment options for this disease.

Contact Us For Help

Companies that knowingly perpetuated the use of this harmful material for decades after it was determined dangerous should be held accountable. If you think you might have a mesothelioma case in Massachusetts, we encourage you to contact us. We have helped hundreds of individuals and families obtain justice for their injuries, regularly reaching settlements and verdicts in the millions. We are happy to offer you a free case evaluation. If you like, we will come to your house to listen to your story and will tell you honestly if we think you have a viable claim.