Mesothelioma (Mesothelioma)

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in which cancerous cells are found in the mesothelium. Most cases of mesothelioma begin in the chest or abdomen and are caused by asbestos exposure.

What is the mesothelium?

The mesothelium is a two-layered membrane that covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body; one layer of the mesothelium immediately surrounds the organ and the other forms a sac around the organ. The mesothelium produces a lubricating fluid that is released between these layers to allow moving organs to move around easily.

The mesothelium has different names in different parts of the body, in the chest it is called the pleura, in the abdomen it is called the peritoneum, in the space around the heart it is called the pericardium. The mesothelial tissue surrounding the male internal reproductive organs is called the tunica vaginalis testis.  The tunica serosa uteri covers the internal reproductive organs in women.

Are all tumors of the mesothelium dangerous?

Tumors of the mesothelium can be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant).  A cancerous tumor of the mesothelium is called a malignant mesothelioma, although this is often simply shortened to just mesothelioma.

Where does mesothelioma begin?

Mesotheliomas may begin in any of four areas of the body and can be characterized by place of origin.

Pleural mesotheliomas begin in the chest cavity and account for about approximately 75% of mesotheliomas.  

Peritoneal mesotheliomas begin in the abdomen and make up close to 25% of mesotheliomas.

Pericardial mesotheliomas start in the cavity around the heart and are very rare.

Mesotheliomas of the tunica vaginalis are very rare tumors that start in the covering layer of the testicles, which is actually an out pouching of peritoneum into the scrotum.

What are the different types of mesothelioma?

Mesotheliomas can also be classified into 3 types based on how the cells are arranged when looked at under a microscope:

Epithelioid make up about half of mesotheliomas and tend to have a prognosis than the other types.  

Sarcomatoid(fibrous) make up about 10 to 20% of mesotheliomas.  

Mixed(biphasic)mesotheliomas have both epithelioid and sarcomatoid areas and make up about 30% to 40% of mesotheliomas.

How common is mesothelioma and who gets it?

About 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States each year. Mesothelioma is rare in people under age 55 and its incidence increases with age. About 3 out of 4 people with mesothelioma are over 65 years old. The disease affects men about 4 times more often than women. The increased incidence for males reflects the increased use of asbestos in the United States and the high levels of occupational exposure prior to the late 1960’s when formal workplace exposure limits were established.

Although mesothelioma occurs more often in men than in women and risk increases with age, this disease can appear in either men or women at any age.

What is the link between mesothelioma and asbestos exposure?

Mesothelioma incidence is often interpreted as an indicator of exposure to asbestos. Projections of the number of mesothelioma cases over time have been used to evaluate various asbestos health management issues including exposure limits and products bans. Most of the past increase in cases, as well as the recent decrease in cases, has been in men and is related to changes in workplace exposures to asbestos. Mesothelioma projections also provide a foundation for estimating the number of potential lawsuits from persons claiming occupational exposure resulting from use of previously manufactured asbestos-containing products.

What are the causes and risk factors for mesothelioma?

Researchers have found that the main risk factor for developing mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. A history of asbestos exposure at work is reported in about 70 to 80 percent of all cases of mesothelioma.

The risk of developing mesothelioma is strongly associated with how much asbestos a person was exposed to and how long this exposure lasted. People exposed at an early age, for a long period of time, and at higher levels are more likely to develop this cancer.  The risk of mesothelioma does not drop with time after exposure to asbestos and appears to be lifelong and undiminished.

There is some evidence that family members and others living with asbestos workers have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma, and possibly other asbestos-related diseases.  This risk may be the result of exposure to asbestos dust brought home on the clothing and hair of asbestos workers.

What happens if I am exposed to asbestos fibers?

If exposed to asbestos, one breathes in asbestos fibers which can travel to the ends of small air passages in the lungs and reach the pleura where they damage mesothelial cells, scarring and stimulating the growth of these cells. The fibers may also damage DNA and cause changes that result in uncontrolled cell growth. Peritoneal mesothelioma may result from coughing up and swallowing inhaled asbestos fibers. 

If I have been exposed to asbestos will I get mesothelioma?

Not all workers who are heavily exposed develop asbestos-related diseases, however, some individuals with only brief exposures have developed mesothelioma and mesothelioma has also been reported in some individuals without any known exposure to asbestos.        

Does smoking increase the risk of mesothelioma?

Smoking does not appear to increase the risk of mesothelioma.  However, the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure significantly increases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer.

How long does it take to develop mesothelioma?

The time between first exposure to asbestos and diagnosis of mesothelioma, the latency period, is usually between 20 and 50 years.

How do I reduce the risk of mesothelioma?

The best way to reduce your risk of mesothelioma is to prevent or limit your exposure to asbestos in homes, in public buildings, and at work.

How do I know if I have mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is uncommon and there is no widely recommended screening schedule for this cancer in people who are not at increased risk. For people with known exposure to asbestos, some doctors recommend imaging tests such as chest x-rays or CT scans to look for changes in the lungs that might be signs of mesothelioma or lung cancer, but it is not clear how useful these tests are in identifying mesotheliomas early.

Doctors have found that people with mesothelioma often have elevated levels of certain substances in their blood so tests for these substances may one day prove useful for early detection of mesotheliomas, but these tests have mainly been used to monitor the disease in people who are already diagnosed with the disease.

Most mesotheliom as are found when a person goes to a doctor because of symptoms. People who have been exposed to asbestos should know the possible signs and symptoms of mesothelioma.

What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?

Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma can include, but are not limited to, back or chest pains, shortness of breath, coughing, fever, sweating, fatigue, weight loss, trouble swallowing, hoarseness, swelling of the face and arms, muscle weakness.

Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma can include but are not limited to abdominal pain, swelling or fluid in the abdomen, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting

Symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear until 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos and are often very similar to symptoms of more common, less dangerous ailments. Most people with mesothelioma have symptoms for a few months before they are diagnosed, although some people have symptoms for longer.

Symptoms might suggest that a person may have mesothelioma, but tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis. If you display any symptoms and have been exposed to asbestos it's important to see your doctor right away.

How is mesothelioma diagnosed?

Diagnosing mesothelioma is often difficult, because the symptoms are similar to those of a number of other conditions.  Diagnosis begins with a review of the patient’s medical history, including any history of asbestos exposure, but a biopsy is needed to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma.

If the diagnosis is mesothelioma, the doctor will want to learn the extent of the disease.  Staging involves more tests in a careful attempt to find out whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to which parts of the body.  Knowing the stage of the disease helps the doctor plan treatment.  

Mesothelioma is described as localized if the cancer is found only on the membrane surface where it originated.  It is classified as advanced if it has spread beyond the original membrane surface to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, chest wall, or abdominal organs.   

How is mesothelioma treated?

Treatment for mesothelioma depends on the location of the cancer, the staging of the disease, and the patient’s age and general health.  Standard treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, but sometimes these treatments are  combined. 

Are new treatments for mesothelioma being studied?

Because mesothelioma is very hard to control, the National Cancer Institute (NCI)is sponsoring research studies that are designed to find new  treatments and better ways to use current treatments.  Before any new treatment can be recommended for general use, doctors conduct clinical trials to find out whether the treatment is safe for patients and effective against the disease.

What should I do if I have developed mesothelioma from asbestos exposure?

Dealing with mesothelioma can be very stressful and expensive, if you developed mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure you need to know your rights.

The Law Firm of Eric H. Weinberg has over twenty years experience fighting on behalf of clients that have been injured as a result of negligence of manufacturers, producers, and distributers, of various products and devices and we can help you find the legal help you need.

For a free legal case evaluation, please select Mesothelioma Lawsuit, or contact us toll free at 1-877-934-6274.