Asbestosis is a potentially serious condition, reducing the quality of life for thousands of workers and their families. But it has long been known that asbestos fibers can cause much worse damage to a person’s lungs. As long ago as the 1940’s, scientists realized that breathing asbestos fibers can cause cancer.
Studies have shown that long, thin, microscopically small asbestos fibers can puncture the wall of a single cell and cause damage to the DNA within, sometimes even destroying it. The cell’s DNA contains its blueprint for reproduction. The damaged cell, no longer able to reproduce itself properly, can begin multiplying in a disorderly manner, causing a mass of tissue to form. This mass is called a tumor.
When a person inhales asbestos fibers, most of them, of course, are deposited in that person’s lungs. So most asbestos cancer cells are located either in the lungs or in the chest cavity surrounding them.
Asbestos Exposure Information
However, asbestos fibers can also be deposited in the airway and voice box, or larynx. Although the research to date has not positively confirmed that asbestos fibers cause cancer within the larynx, the studies that have been done suggest strongly that they do.
Asbestos fibers can also be swallowed, and doctors have reported finding these fibers all along the gastrointestinal tract-in the esophagus, the stomach, the colon, and the rectum. But current research has not proven that asbestos causes cancer in these organs, and the clinical evidence is not as strong as that for laryngeal cancer. However, some studies of asbestos workers throughout their lives have shown an increased number of deaths from cancers in these organs, so the possibility cannot be ignored.
Mesothelioma is an extremely rare cancer, striking only 2,000-3,000 people in the United States each year. At least 80% of all mesothelioma patients are either workers who were exposed to asbestos on the job, or members of their families who were exposed to the fibers carried home on the worker’s clothing or on the seats of the family car. Fewer than 20% of mesothelioma patients cannot trace any asbestos exposure in their pasts. Unlike other forms of cancer involving the lungs, mesothelioma is not caused by cigarette smoking.
Like all forms of asbestos-related lung disease, it takes decades for malignant mesothelioma to form. This latency period can be as long as 60 years, but is usually 30-40 years, although there have been rare cases that took ten years or less to develop.
Pleural Mesothelioma Most often, mesothelioma attacks the thin membranes that line the chest cavity, surrounding and separating the lungs. It usually forms on one side of the chest, rather than both sides. This is called pleural mesothelioma. Less often, a mesothelioma tumor forms in the lining of the abdominal cavity, called peritoneal mesothelioma, or, in rare instances, pericardial mesothelioma develops in the heart cavity.
As the disease progresses, it becomes more and more difficult for the victim to breathe. There’s pain on the side of the chest, or in the lower back. The chest cavity often fills with fluid, making the shortness of breath and pain even worse. Other mesothelioma symptoms include weight loss and a persistent cough, and fever, sweating, fatigue, and coughing up blood.
Mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive cancer and fewer than 30% of patients survive longer than one year after diagnosis. The most important point in stopping this cancer is early detection. People who have been exposed to asbestos should see their doctor as soon as they show any respiratory symptoms, as only a doctor can diagnose cancer, and early detection may help greatly with treatment.
By far the most common cause of lung cancer is still cigarette smoking. Smokers are 13 times more likely to have lung cancer than non-smokers, while workers exposed to asbestos are at five times greater risk than those who were not.
But a smoker exposed to asbestos is 60-90 times more likely to have cancer than an unexposed non-smoker. For this reason, it’s very important for anyone exposed to asbestos to avoid cigarette smoking and to quit if they do smoke. This is the single most important thing they can do to protect themselves against cancer.
The common symptoms of lung cancer are a persistent cough, wheezing, an unintentional weight loss, spitting or coughing up blood, persistent chest pain, shortness of breath, and trouble breathing. Of course, these can also be symptoms of other respiratory problems, such as bronchitis. It’s important for people who have been exposed to asbestos to see their doctor for any respiratory illness, because it could be masking something very serious. These people should also be certain their doctor knows of their past work history with asbestos.
Asbestos-related lung cancer usually forms at the bottoms of the lungs, although if cigarette smoking is also involved, the tumor can form anywhere. Otherwise, asbestos-related lung cancer develops like any other lung cancer. It responds to the same treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Some patients who develop asbestos-related lung cancer are also diagnosed with asbestosis or pleural plaques. These conditions are not cancerous and are not often life-threatening, although in a small number of cases they can be fatal. Their presence does, however, indicate that asbestos helped cause that person’s lung cancer.
Find a Mesothelioma Lawyer: Call Sokolove Law
It is important to have a thorough understanding of asbestos exposure and your legal rights under the law – and choose a mesothelioma lawyer who has knowledge and experience dealing with work-related injury issues. Sokolove Law has over 30 years of experience litigating mesothelioma and asbestos related disease cases. Call us now for a free legal consultation, and take action now.