Mesothelioma FAQ

A diagnosis of mesothelioma leaves patients with many questions. They may wonder when and where they were exposed to asbestos, what treatment options are available and what recourse they have. If your mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure at work, you may be able to file a claim for compensation.

After a diagnosis of mesothelioma, many people find that they have questions. Here, we’d like to answer some of the most common questions that people ask about mesothelioma and exposure to asbestos.

Is mesothelioma a type of lung cancer?

Mesothelioma and lung cancer are actually two entirely different types of cancer, although they both can affect the lungs and be caused by exposure to asbestos. They arise from different types of tissue.

Mesothelioma arises from the mesothelium, which is a membrane that surrounds certain organs within the body. Most cases of mesothelioma arise in the pleura, which is the mesothelium that surrounds the lungs. However, mesothelioma can also form in the mesothelium that surrounds the digestive system, heart or testes. By contrast, lung cancer arises in the lung tissue itself.

How do you know if you have mesothelioma?

The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, which is the most common type, include respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath, a dry cough and chest pain. Similar symptoms can be caused by many other common conditions, including COPD (emphysema), pneumonia and other lung infections, asthma and lung cancer. All of these conditions are more common than mesothelioma, which can make the diagnosis challenging.

If you’re having symptoms that might indicate mesothelioma, then you need to visit your doctor right away to discuss these. They will do a series of diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your symptoms. If you have a history of asbestos exposure (such as working in an industry where asbestos exposure was common, or living with someone who did), then you should let your doctor know about this. Knowing about your asbestos exposure may help with the diagnostic process.

Can mesothelioma be cured?

Currently, mesothelioma is considered to be an incurable cancer. However, there are treatments available that can extend life for some patients. Most commonly, a multimodal treatment approach is used, which combines several types of treatments (such as surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy) to get rid of as many cancer cells as possible.

Some patients have gone into remission from mesothelioma, meaning that there was no evidence of the disease in their bodies. However, doctors would not say that such a patient is “cured.” With cancer, there’s always the chance that a few cancer cells are hiding out somewhere in the body. Even if there’s just one cancer cell remaining, it could start to grow again and lead to the cancer’s return. Going into remission from mesothelioma is rare, and the cancer may later return, but some patients do live significantly longer than their prognosis.

Should I get a second opinion on my mesothelioma
diagnosis?

The American Cancer Society recommends that cancer patients seek a second opinion in some cases, such as with a rare or unusual cancer. Mesothelioma is relatively rare, with only about 3,000 cases diagnosed in the United States each year, so seeking a second opinion may be a good idea.

Can you prevent mesothelioma after asbestos
exposure?

Unfortunately, there is no known way to prevent mesothelioma after an exposure to asbestos. Once asbestos fibers have become embedded into the lung tissue, there’s no known way to remove them. There is the potential for these fibers to cause mesothelioma.

If you had a short-term, relatively mild exposure, your risk is likely to be small. However, for those who have had more significant exposures (either a short-term exposure to a high level of asbestos, or a longer-term exposure), then you should be monitored regularly by your doctor. Catching mesothelioma early gives you more treatment options, so if you’re at a higher risk, you may benefit from regular screenings for early signs of this cancer.

How do you get exposed to asbestos?

The most common type of asbestos exposure is occupational asbestos exposure, which occurs at work. This can happen when a person works directly with asbestos or in an environment where asbestos is being manipulated. This usually occurs in people with industrial, military or construction jobs.

People can also be exposed through a family member who has asbestos exposure at work. The asbestos fibers can be carried home on the worker’s clothing, hair or skin. This is known as secondary asbestos exposure.

Environmental exposure is also a possibility. Those who live or work in buildings that contain asbestos may be at risk, though generally only when the building is undergoing maintenance. As long as asbestos is not disturbed, it’s unlikely to enter the air and become a problem. However, if the asbestos-containing material is cut, drilled into or otherwise manipulated, then asbestos may enter the air of the home and cause disease.

The outdoor environment can sometimes be a source of asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral, and deposits can be found around the world. When disturbed, it can enter the air, soil or water. The background level of asbestos in the environment is usually small, but it can be significantly higher near sites where asbestos is being mined or near plants where asbestos-containing materials are being manufactured.

Is asbestos banned in the United States?

While 44 countries around the world have banned asbestos, the United States is not one of them. The use of asbestos in the United States is now heavily regulated, but asbestos imports continue to occur and it is still used in certain products. In mid-2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new regulations that will further tighten the restrictions on using asbestos. However, attempts to ban asbestos in the United States have not yet been successful.

How long does it take to get cancer from asbestos?

It generally takes many years between exposure to asbestos and the development of cancer. The period of time between exposure to a carcinogen and the diagnosis of cancer is known as the latency period. For mesothelioma caused by asbestos, the latency period can be 20 to 40 years or even longer.

How do you know if you were exposed to
asbestos?

Part of what makes asbestos so dangerous is that it’s very difficult to detect. Asbestos fibers are extremely tiny, and when they’re present in the air, they generally can’t be seen or smelled. This can make it very difficult for people to know when they’re being exposed to asbestos.

If you have worked in an industrial, military or construction job, then it’s possible that you were exposed to asbestos, particularly if you worked there before the 1980s. You can check the CDC’s list of high-risk occupations to see if your job is listed, although this doesn’t guarantee exposure. When it’s necessary to prove asbestos exposure in a particular individual (such as for a court case), attorneys comb through detailed records to determine whether a person was working in an area where asbestos was known to be present. If you have mesothelioma and you believe that occupational asbestos exposure caused your disease, contact an attorney with experience in the field who can review your case for you.

For those who live in older homes (built before the 1980s), there could be asbestos in certain materials. You may want to consider this before performing any type of maintenance on your home. Testing can be performed to check for asbestos. If it’s present, then you should avoid disturbing it as much as possible.

How do you file a mesothelioma claim?

Companies have a duty to follow stringent asbestos regulations to protect their workers, as well as their workers’ families, from exposure to this dangerous mineral. If they fail to fulfill this obligation, then they can be held liable for the harm that they cause. There have been many cases in which a company has been required to pay financial compensation to a person who developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure in their workplace.

If you believe that your mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure at work, or by secondary exposure related to a family member’s work, then you may be eligible to file a claim. If a person passes away due to mesothelioma caused by a company’s negligence, then the person’s heirs may be able to file a claim for wrongful death. An attorney with experience in filing claims of this nature can review the details of your case and let you know whether you may be eligible. Because of the statute of limitations, you have only a limited period of time after a diagnosis in which to file your claim. Don’t delay in contacting an expert who can help.

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