London—Just two months after his diagnosis of mesothelioma, a former architect who worked with asbestos almost 40 years ago has died. Brian Pettit was 66 at the time of his death, for which which coroner Dr. Andrew Reid recorded a verdict of death by industrial disease. Pettit had developed a malignant tumor on his left lung, which manifested itself as a pain resembling a broken rib on his left side. A friend testified in the coroner’s court that Pettit was not able to go to the doctor’s office for several weeks. Mesothelioma, a cancer which affects the outer lining of the lungs, can take many years to develop after the initial exposure to the asbestos. Asbestos is composed of millions of microscopic fibers which, when released into the air, can be inhaled or ingested. Since the fibers are sharp and needle-like, they burrow into the body’s soft tissues and cause malignancies, particularly in the membrane surrounding the lungs called the mesothelium.
Mesothelioma is incurable and patients have a very short life expectancy—18 months on average, although some patients die in as little as a few months after diagnosis, as was the case with Mr. Pettit. Part of the reason for the short life expectancy associated with this rare cancer is the fact that its symptoms are often non-specific, and resemble the symptoms of other, more common respiratory conditions such as colds, flu, or bronchitis. Those who have been occupationally exposed to asbestos, or who have come into close contact with asbestos workers, should be tested for mesothelioma on a regular basis. As with most cancers, the best opportunity for treating it comes in the early stages. At later stages, which is unfortunately when most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed, treatment options are limited and often ineffective. Pettit worked as an architect for British Home Stores in the early 1970s, a job which required him to be on site at various construction locations. He would have been vulnerable to the airborne asbestos particulate released when asbestos insulation boards were being sawed and cut.