Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer, and also one of the cruelest forms, as it is generally caused by exposure to asbestos, a substance which is dangerous and formally unregulated. There are many myths surrounding the illness, as to who and how the disease can be contracted, so here we will share the facts about the deadly disease.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelial cells. These cells cover the surface of most of the body’s internal organs. 75% of mesothelioma cases are pleural, meaning that the disease is present in the lung lining. The other areas affected by the disease are:
- The abdominal cavity (peritoneal).
- The lining of the heart (pericardial).
- Less than 1% of cases are attributed to testicular mesothelioma.
How common is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a relatively rare form of cancer, with around 2,500 people diagnosed with the disease each year in the UK.
To break this figure down, on average7 people are diagnosed each day from mesothelioma. However, compared to other cancers this amount is relatively small, for example around120 people a day are diagnosed with lung cancer.
Who is most at risk of contracting mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is generally contracted as a result of being exposed to asbestos, so anyone in contact with the substance can be at risk.
- The most common place for coming into contact with asbestos is in the workplace, so much so that 70-80% of all mesothelioma cases are caused by workplace asbestos exposure.
- The disease is around five times more common in men than women. This is possibly because the working environments where asbestos is prevalent are male dominated.
- Dr Phillip Barber, Consultant Respiratory Physician, recently released a paper highlighting a secondary risk, where people exposed to clothing or equipment containing asbestos can also be at risk of contracting the disease. This could explain why younger people who haven’t had first hand exposure to the substance can also develop mesothelioma.
- It’s been proven that even a small amount of asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, however the disease is usually caused by long-term exposure, most prominently in a work environment.
- In some cases, however, particularly when mesothelioma is diagnosed in very young adults or in children, the disease may develop with no clear link to asbestos exposure.
Does the disease mainly affect older people?
As mesothelioma is usually diagnosed 20 to 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos, it is often considered to be a disease associated with older people.
However, if exposed to asbestos as a child, younger people can also suffer from the disease. The cause of mesothelioma developing in younger people can be attributed to a number of causes, including:
- Exposure passed on from adults who worked with asbestos when the child was young.
- Asbestos in school buildings.
- Asbestos in the environment (e.g. from contaminated land).
Where is asbestos present?
Asbestos is now illegal but for years it was used in many different industries, including the following:
Although it is now illegal to use asbestos in any construction project, to a great extent the damage is already done, as thousands of tonnes of asbestos are still in place in many buildings in the UK, and continue to put people at risk.
What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the lungs) include:
- Chest pains.
- Shortness of breath.
- Persistent coughing.
- Weight loss.
- Difficulty swallowing.
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma (mesothelioma in the abdomen) include:
- Stomach pains.
- Poor appetite.
- Weight loss.
- Swelling in the abdomen.
How long will it take for the symptoms of mesothelioma to present themselves?
The time between a person’s first exposure to mesothelioma and the actual diagnosis of the disease can be between 20-50 years.
Unfortunately, because the symptoms don’t present themselves for such a long time, the asbestos fibres will have caused significant damage to a particular area of the body and the disease will be well established by the time it is detected.
Is there a cure for mesothelioma?
Although there is no cure for mesothelioma there are treatment options available to help prolong a patient’s life once they have been diagnosed. These include:
- Alternative therapies.
These treatments have all shown to improve survival rates in people suffering from mesothelioma.
What is the life expectancy for someone with mesothelioma?
Sadly, by the time someone displays symptoms of the disease it’s often at an advanced stage and it’s common for people with the disease to be given just 12 months to live. This isn’t a strict time frame however, as the severity of the disease will naturally be taken into account, and life expectancy can vary between 6 – 38 months.
Is it possible to receive compensation from contracting mesothelioma in the workplace?
Because mesothelioma can take so long to develop, it can sometimes be difficult to identify the companies responsible. As decades will often have passed since the initial exposure, there’s a likelihood that the company responsible will no longer be in business.
However, the facts remain that in most cases the disease was brought on through exposure to asbestos in the workplace. As a result, there have been many successful asbestos related claims where solicitors have brought negligent companies to justice, whether they are still in business or not.
It is also now possible to receive compensation via a government arranged scheme funded by insurers.
If you have been exposed to asbestos, or secondary asbestos and have since contracted mesothelioma then contact the ASD team in Sheffield on 0114 267 2470, and speak to our experienced solicitors today about making a claim.