Asbestos and mesothelioma are practically synonymous, and for good reason: experts estimate that asbestos exposure is responsible for at least 80% of cases. Since there is no safe level of asbestos exposure, people who had even brief encounters with the substance may still develop related respiratory disorders. However, these conditions can stay silent for decades.1 Many people who were exposed to asbestos in the past may forget they once worked with the mineral, or lived in a house with asbestos-contaminated paint, walls, or piping.
However, people sometimes do develop mesothelioma without asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer. It takes its name from the mesothelium, a thin layer of tissue that covers most of the human body’s internal organs. Since there are mesothelial layers throughout the body, this cancer can strike almost anywhere. However, mesothelioma usually affects the pleural tissue surrounding the lungs. In some rare cases, it can also start in or spread to the heart, abdomen, or testicles.
When doctors suspect that a patient could have mesothelioma, they diagnose it based on its location. For example:
- Pleural mesothelioma, or malignant pleural mesothelioma, affects the tissue surrounding the lungs, causing respiratory signs and symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and unexplained weight loss.2
- Peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects abdominal tissue, can cause symptoms including abdominal pain, swelling, and nausea.
- Pericardial mesothelioma, which affects the heart, can complicate breathing and cause chest pain.
The Causes of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a cancer.
Cancers are a category of genetic diseases, in the sense that cancer is caused by certain, adverse changes to a cell’s genetic structure, or DNA.3 These changes are called mutations. Sometimes, mutations will instruct a cell to begin multiplying. When the cells multiply out of control, they can accumulate and form a tumor.
Risk Factors For Mesothelioma
Scientists are still trying to understand cancer. While the development of tumors is still being studied, cancers probably form through some combination of inherited physiological traits, environmental exposure, age, and lifestyle choices. A trait, experience, or condition that could contribute to the formation of a cancer tumor is called a “risk factor.”
We already know that cigarette smokers, for instance, are more likely to develop lung cancer than people who do not smoke cigarettes. We could therefore consider tobacco use a risk factor for lung cancer.
Mesothelioma has risk factors, too. They include:
- Asbestos Exposure. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Since asbestos is highly durable, inexpensive to produce, and heat resistant, it has been used in manufacturing and construction for centuries. However, asbestos products can release microscopic airborne fibers. If a person inhales these mineral fibers, they can get “trapped” inside the lungs, causing inflammation, respiratory problems, and different cancers, including mesothelioma. People who have a history of long-term exposure to asbestos, especially in the workplace, are at the highest risk of developing mesothelioma; they account for an estimated 70-80% of all diagnosed cases.4
- Erionite Exposure. Erionite is another naturally occurring mineral. While erionite is no longer mined or used for commercial purposes, it can sometimes contaminate otherwise safe deposits of rock and gravel. When these erionite deposits are crushed, tilled, or otherwise dispersed, they can infiltrate the lungs and their mesothelia. The National Cancer Institute has found that road construction workers are at the highest risk for erionite exposure.5
Mesothelioma can have other, less common causes, too:
- Genetics. Mesothelioma can sometimes “run in the family.” Scientists have found that so-called germline mutations in the gene encoding the BAP1 protein, passed from parents to their children, can increase an individual’s lifetime risk for mesothelioma.6 However, genetic mutations rarely cause mesothelioma without any external influence. People who may be genetically predisposed to the disease will still need to be exposed to asbestos, erionite, or other hazardous substance.
- Other factors. While mesothelioma is usually caused by asbestos or erionite exposure, scientists cannot always identify the source of mesothelioma. Links to other medical conditions, such as the simian virus, have been proposed but not verified.
Scientists Don’t Always Know How or Why Mesothelioma Develops
A recent publication in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science, a peer-reviewed medical journal, details the case of a 47-year-old man who was admitted to a hospital with chest pain and shortness of breath.
While the patient had a history of tobacco use and alcohol abuse, he did not have any known asbestos exposures. But when doctors performed a C.T. scan on the man’s chest, they discovered a “significant” pleural effusion, or an abnormal collection of fluid between layers of lung tissue.
After investigating the pleural mass, the doctors were able to deliver a diagnosis of epithelioid mesothelioma, a cancer which can affect the lining of the lungs.
The 47-year-old’s doctors were unable to explain how their patient had epithelioid mesothelioma, which is almost always caused by prior asbestos exposure. Although he could have been exposed to asbestos unknowingly, the average onset time for this cancer is nearly 50 years.
In other words, scientists’ current understanding of mesothelioma cannot explain how this man ended up showing symptoms of a cancer subtype that is almost always caused by asbestos exposure.
However, Asbestos Could Still Be Responsible for ‘Inexplicable’ Mesothelioma
The Cureus researchers were confounded by their patient’s case partially because the patient – at 47 years old – was too young to have malignant epithelioid mesothelioma!
Mesothelioma is, in fact, often thought of as a “disease of old age” because the average age of diagnosis is 65. Although people under the age of 65, and even under the age of 50, can have mesothelioma, they almost always have had verifiable childhood asbestos exposures.
However, mesothelioma’s tendency to present in old age does not mean that this cancer specifically targets older adults – asbestos fibers simply take a very, very long time to begin causing noticeable physical problems.
Asbestos, after all, used to be everywhere – it was even celebrated as a “miracle mineral,” used to manufacture everything from floor tiles and roof shingles to plumbing and automotive parts.
Common asbestos-containing products include:
- Floor and ceiling tiles
- Automotive parts, including brake pads
- Fiber insulation
- Loose fill home insulation
- Fire safety appliances and heat resistant clothing
- Pipe insulation
Many people, especially older adults, may have been exposed to asbestos-contaminated products without their knowledge.
Who May Be At Risk for “Silent” Asbestos Exposure
Since asbestos can take decades to develop into a recognizable condition, like mesothelioma, anyone who has an asbestos-related cancer that cannot be explained by other means should consult an asbestos attorney to track their potential past exposures to the so-called “miracle mineral.”
Most seemingly inexplicable mesothelioma diagnoses can be explained by occupational asbestos exposure, or workplace asbestos exposure.
People who worked in the following industries before 1989 could have been inadvertently exposed to asbestos:
- Power supply
- Shipbuilding, including military contractors and personnel
- Nuclear power, including military contractors and personnel
However, the risk of asbestos exposure is not limited to people who worked directly with the mineral.
Secondary Asbestos Exposure
People who were never directly exposed to asbestos could still develop chronic asbestos-related illnesses, including mesothelioma, if they lived or spent significant time around someone who worked with the flame-resistant mineral.
Since asbestos can fragment into powder or fibers, people who regularly spent time around the mineral could sometimes track it back home. This is because asbestos fibers can cling to clothing, hair, and skin.
Asbestos fibers could also contaminate a variety of physical objects. If a construction worker came home covered in asbestos fibers, it could powder their car seat, accumulate outside their shower, or infect furniture.
Similarly, a spouse or child tasked with washing a worker’s clothes could be exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos on a near-daily basis.
When an occupationally at-risk worker brings asbestos home, their family members and friends could inhale enough asbestos fibers to develop health conditions of their own.
However, many people who suffered secondhand asbestos exposure never realize they were around asbestos until it is too late.
The Warning Signs of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose and treat. This is because the disease’s earliest signs can resemble other, more common respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia and the common flu.
The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, or mesothelioma of the lungs, include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Dry cough
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest expansion
- Sudden, drastic weight loss
- Muscle weakness or soreness
- Swollen face
- Swollen arms
The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma, or mesothelioma of the abdomen and pelvis, include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Unusual accumulations of fluid in or around the abdomen
- Chronic vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
The symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma, or mesothelioma of the heart, include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart murmurs
Anyone who has a history of asbestos exposure, or believes they could have been exposed to asbestos, should consult a physician if they begin experiencing any mesothelioma symptoms.
The Costs of a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Mesothelioma takes a harsh physical and financial toll regardless of whether it was diagnosed with or without a history of asbestos exposure. By some informed estimates, the average cost of mesothelioma treatment is between $11,000 and $12,000 per month.7
Even if someone has high-quality private health care, they may still be responsible for out-of-pocket expenses, including co-pays and deductibles, for common treatments like:
- Chemotherapy, which can cost up to $40,000 for a first-time course.
- Surgery, which can cost more than $26,000 per procedure.
- Radiation therapy, which can cost more than $9,000.
The Journal of Rare Tumors suggests that the median “per episode costs for mesothelioma for the inpatient setting” are $25,566. Phrased differently, this means that, every time a mesothelioma patient must be hospitalized as part of a routine treatment, they and their health insurance are liable to be billed tens of thousands of dollars.8
Mesothelioma patients could face other losses. Aside from medical bills, they might have to:
- Pay for expensive prescription drugs, including painkillers and chemotherapy components pills
- Attend physical therapy sessions, which are often mandatory for patients diagnosed with certain cancers, including malignant mesothelioma9
- Take time away from work, costing them the same money they need to use to fund their treatment and keep a roof over their head
How a Mesothelioma Lawyer Could Help You Understand Your Diagnosis
The emotional, physical, and financial costs of a mesothelioma diagnosis could seem overwhelming.
However, people with mesothelioma often have options for recompense. Even if you do not understand how you, or a loved one, could have mesothelioma, you may still be entitled to significant compensation if another person, organization, or company’s negligence led to or contributed to your mesothelioma diagnosis.
An asbestos lawyer or mesothelioma attorney could help you review your work and medical history to see if you may have been exposed to asbestos without your knowledge.
AsbestosClaims.Law, for example, maintains a comprehensive database of companies, worksites, and buildings that used asbestos-based materials—making it easier for you to understand and document how and where you could have been exposed to asbestos, erionite, or other dangerous substances.
If you, or a loved one, were exposed to asbestos at work, school, or in the military, you could:
- File a personal injury lawsuit. Mesothelioma victims can file a lawsuit to get compensation for their medical expenses, lost income, emotional pain and suffering, and disability. If you take your case to court, a judge may be able to award punitive damages, a form of financial punishment for the individual or entity that exposed you, or a loved one, to asbestos or another toxic chemical.
- File a wrongful death lawsuit. If you lost a loved one to mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness, you could file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover costs related to unpaid medical bills, funeral costs, burial fees, loss of companionship, and emotional pain and suffering. You could also be awarded punitive damages.
- Asbestos Trusts. When the truth came out about how dangerous asbestos is, everyone realized that millions of industrial workers, and their families, could develop illnesses like mesothelioma and that it may be many years before they know it. So courts ordered that the insurance money and other assets of the asbestos companies be set aside to help them.
There are still over $30 Billion in Asbestos Trusts. The money can only be used to compensate those injured by asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is recognized as one of the most aggressive and painful asbestos-related illnesses, and most Asbestos Trusts pay significant compensation for a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Depending on the nature of your claim, you could apply for compensation through a dedicated asbestos trust – special funds that negligent companies have created to compensate their victims.
While most states do not cap the damages you could receive in a mesothelioma lawsuit, it is imperative that you act fast: most states have statutes of limitations, which restrict how long you can wait to take legal action after a mesothelioma diagnosis or mesothelioma-related death.
If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos illness, you may qualify for compensation without filing a lawsuit.
There are still over $30 Billion dollars placed in Asbestos Trusts. The money can only be used to compensate people with asbestos-related illnesses like asbestosis, pleural thickening, mesothelioma and other cancers.
All we do is help people get compensation from Asbestos Trusts.
AsbestosClaims.law is your comprehensive resource for all things asbestos. We hope this information helps you. If you have any additional questions or concerns related to asbestos, including testing for exposure or how to file a claim, please get in touch, by email at [email protected], or call or text us at (833) 4-ASBESTOS (427-2378) or (206) 455-9190.
1 Asciak, R., George, V. and Rahman, N.M., 2021.Update on biology and management of mesothelioma. European Respiratory Review, 30(159).
2 National Cancer Institute, Symptoms and Causes.
3 Mayo Clinic, Mesothelioma, The Genetics of Cancer.
4 National Cancer Institute, Mesothelioma: Questions and Answers.
5 National Cancer Institute, Erionite.
6 Cigognetti, M., Lonardi, S., Fisogni, S., Balzarini, P., Pellegrini, V., Tironi, A., Bercich, L., Bugatti, M., Rossi, G., Murer, B. and Barbareschi, M., 2015.BAP1 (BRCA1-associated protein 1) is a highly specific marker for differentiating mesothelioma from reactive mesothelial proliferations. Modern Pathology, 28(8), pp.1043-1057.
7 Grace Hambuchen,Missouri Workers’ Compensation Enhanced Benefits for Mesothelioma Victims: Too Crispy or Too Chewy?, 86 MO. L. REV. ()
8 Borrelli, E., Babcock, Z. and Kogut, S., 2019.Costs of medical care for mesothelioma. Rare Tumors, 11, p.2036361319863498.
9 Hemingway, R.D., 2019.Mesothelioma and Physical Therapy. In Caring for Patients with Mesothelioma: Principles and Guidelines (pp. 99-119). Springer, Cham.