Malignant mesothelioma is a rare and debilitating form of cancer caused by chronic exposure to asbestos. When asbestos particles are inhaled or swallowed, they bypass the body’s natural defense systems, lodging themselves in the lungs and abdomen. The sharp, microscopic asbestos fibers eventually make their way to the outer edge of the chest and abdominal cavities and into a membrane called the mesothelium.
The mesothelium, a double-layered protective membrane, surrounds all the organs of the human body and is vital to their proper function. The mesothelium keeps the organs in place while simultaneously lubricating them, allowing them to flex and move with breathing and other movement.
Asbestos fibers cause lesions and scarring on the mesothelium, ultimately leading to the formation of tumors. The damaged cells secrete large amounts of a clear fluid that presses on the lungs and other organs, causing severe discomfort. In addition to these fluid secretions, aggressive tumor growth in later stages can lead to the rapid spread of cancer throughout the chest and abdomen, as well as cardiac or respiratory failure. Mesothelioma progresses extremely slowly. The cancer may take anywhere from 25 to 50 years to show symptoms. Often, when a victim is diagnosed with mesothelioma, the disease has already reached an advanced stage and permanent damage has already occurred.
There are two types of mesothelioma: pleural and peritoneal. Pleural mesothelioma, the most common form of the cancer, affects the pleura, the protective membrane encasing the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for about 10 percent of mesothelioma cases but is equally deadly. The peritoneum is the membrane surrounding the abdomen. Although the path of the asbestos fibers to the abdomen is still not definitively known, most medical professionals believe the asbestos particles enter the abdomen through the mouth before ultimately affecting the peritoneum.
Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms associated with this disease closely resemble more common chest and lung diseases. Symptoms may include:
- Persistent Coughing
- Coughing Blood
- Shortness of Breath
- Chest and Abdomen Pain
- Weight Loss
Mesothelioma severely weakens the immune system, making those afflicted with the disease more vulnerable to secondary diseases like pneumonia and the flu. There are numerous tests available to help medical professionals diagnose mesothelioma, however such diagnosis is still a difficult and long process.
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Stages of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma progression is divided into four stages. These stages are not uniform among medical professionals, who may either classify the cancer according to different criteria or disagree on the specific characteristics of each stage. Listed below are some of the generally accepted criteria for each stage.
Stage 1: Mesothelioma is localized - detected in the pleura of one of the two lungs, but not both. May also affect the pericardium (lining of heart)
Stage 2: Cancer spreads from lung to the lymph nodes
Stage 3: Tumor spreads to peritoneal, chest wall, heart, ribs or other chest organs on the same side as the originally afflicted lung
Stage 4: Cancer has metastasized, which means it has spread throughout the rest of the body through the blood stream.
Currently, there is no known cure for mesothelioma. In the United States, 2,000 to 3,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Because the disease has an extremely long incubation period, up to 50 years in some instances, the cancer is usually not detected until the very advanced stages. Approximately 75% of victims die within a year of being diagnosed. However, there are several treatment options doctors may use to contain the cancer and prolong the victim’s life. The most common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Doctors are constantly working on new experimental treatments as well.
Mesothelioma is a devastating and lethal disease made even more disturbing by the fact that many companies deliberately covered up information known about the ill effects of asbestos. Mining companies had definitive proof of the lethal effects of airborne asbestos particles before asbestos reached the peak of its popularity. Not wanting to lose a cheap and extensively utilized additive, officials in some companies falsified reports and even forced company doctors to purposely misdiagnose mesothelioma sufferers with lung or chest cancer.
Because of the irresponsible actions of the asbestos industry, many mesothelioma victims are entitled to compensation from these companies. If you or a loved one suffer from mesothelioma, you need a competent and experienced lawyer who will aggressively represent your interests. Our compassionate lawyers will work tirelessly on behalf of you and your family to secure compensation for pain, suffering, medical expenses, and other damages. Contact a qualified mesothelioma attorney today.
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