Frequently Asked Questions About Mesothelioma

If you have been recently diagnosed with mesothelioma, you probably have a lot of questions. Your oncologist is most likely happy to answer all of them, but in order to get the most information possible out of your consultation, it’s a good idea to make a note of all of your concerns. Here are some of the questions that are most often asked by mesothelioma patients.

How Did I Get Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma, also known as asbestos cancer, is almost always caused by exposure to this toxic mineral. Used in the construction, shipbuilding and metalworking industries – just to name a few  asbestos works extremely well as a fire and soundproofing substance, but can also release a dust into the surrounding air that, when inhaled, leads to diseases such as mesothelioma. Microscopic fibers in that dust can pierce the mesothelium, a protective membrane surrounding the lungs, and lead to a diagnosis in later life of this devastating, albeit rare, form of cancer.

How Can My Mesothelioma Be Occupational, If I’m Already Retired?

One of the unfortunate hallmarks of this disease is its long latency period – the time between an asbestos exposure and diagnosis, which can be as long as 50 years. The cancer may have been developing in your body asymptomatically for decades. Or you may have missed the symptoms, since they are often similar to other respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis, emphysema or even the common cold. These symptoms include breathing problems, coughing, fatigue, and chest or rib pain.

Is There A Cure?

There is little chance for a cure of mesothelioma at the current time, although researchers are hard at work searching for one.

Can Mesothelioma Be Treated?

Your treatment options depend on the stage in which your cancer was diagnosed, as well as your overall health. Surgery may be possible in the earliest stages of mesothelioma. Chemotherapy and radiation may also be administered, although later-stage patients may not be strong enough to withstand these often debilitating treatments and their side effects. For some patients, the primary goal of treatment will be pain management.

Is Mesothelioma the Same As Lung Cancer?

No. Lung cancer affects the lung tissue, whereas mesothelioma attacks the thin membrane that lines the lungs, called the mesothelium. Confusion often arises because asbestos exposure can cause both types of cancer, but there are other causes of lung cancer – particularly cigarette smoking. Lung cancer is also a far more common form of cancer, with approximately 200,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States, compared to 3,000 cases of mesothelioma. Additionally, because lung cancers tumors are less diffuse and more clearly delineated, surgery is usually more effective at removing them than in the case of mesothelioma.

What’s the Prognosis for Mesothelioma Patients?

Unfortunately, the prognosis is usually grim. The median survival time for mesothelioma patients is only six to 18 months post-diagnosis, and many people actually succumb much sooner. Fewer than 10 percent live past the two-year mark. Yet there have also been documented cases of mesothelioma patients who have far exceeded their doctor’s estimation of life expectancy, living five and more years after learning they have this form of cancer. One man, Paul Kraus, is well known in the mesothelioma community because to date he has lived over 10 years with the disease.

Is My Family At Risk?

The tragic answer to this question is yes, your family may also be at risk for asbestos-related diseases. This cancer is not contagious, but if you labored on a job site that was contaminated with asbestos, you may well have brought the toxin home with you. The dust or fibers can cling to clothing and hair, and there have been several cases in which the caretakers of workers developed mesothelioma from secondhand asbestos exposure. Shaking out the work clothes, or laundering them, is considered a form of this exposure. So, too, is simply embracing or being near someone who has asbestos particulate on their clothes.

Isn’t Asbestos Banned?

Not entirely. Although some regulations have been enacted concerning the handling of asbestos materials, and although many of its applications have been restricted, there are still scores of products that are legally allowed to contain asbestos in the United States.

What Are My Rights Under the Law?

You may be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, or even pain and suffering. Asbestos litigation has become the largest tort in United States legal history, with a record number of companies paying out large settlements after having been found guilty of willfully exposing their employees to this toxin.