TV soap operas are known for their emotional storylines and ITV soap Emmerdale has recently included a storyline which focuses on mesothelioma, bringing attention to a type of cancer which is rarely covered in the media. In the soap, Donna Windsor (played by Verity Rushworth) is terminally ill with mesothelioma and, although it hasn’t been revealed how she contracted the disease, the storyline will bring some much needed exposure to this rare type of cancer.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelial cells, these cells cover the surface of most of the body’s internal organs. Mesothelioma usually develops in the covering of the lungs or in the abdomen but is more common in the lungs. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the lungs) include chest pains, shortness of breath, persistent coughing, weight loss and difficulty swallowing. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma (mesothelioma in the abdomen) include stomach pains, nausea and vomiting, poor appetite, weight loss and swelling in the abdomen.
Mesothelioma in young people
In the soap, Donna Windsor is 29 years old, which is very young to contract the disease. Mesothelioma is usually diagnosed 20 to 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos, which means that it is a disease which is often associated with older people. However, as the storyline in Emmerdale illustrates, if exposed 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. These include second-hand exposure from adults who worked with asbestos when the child was young; asbestos in school buildings and asbestos in the environment (e.g. from contaminated land).
Dr Phillip Barber, Consultant Respiratory Physician, recently released a paper which clearly showed the link between asbestos exposure from contaminated adult clothing and mesothelioma developing in younger people.
Although there is often a clear connection, in some cases, particularly when mesothelioma is diagnosed in very young adults or in children, the disease may develop with no clear link to asbestos exposure.
How common is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a devastating disease as it takes many years to develop, so is often very advanced when it’s diagnosed and is therefore particularly rare in younger people. 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. On average 7 people are diagnosed each day from mesothelioma, but compared to other cancers this amount is relatively small, for example around 120 people a day are diagnosed with lung cancer.
Mesothelioma is around five times more common in men than women, possibly due to men being more likely to work in jobs where asbestos is more prevalent. There is however, a secondary risk of exposure from clothing or equipment containing asbestos which is one reason why younger people can contract the disease.
Justice for mesothelioma sufferers
Mesothelioma is one of the cruellest cancers as the majority of cases are caused by exposure to a substance which is dangerous and formally unregulated. 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 and continue to put people at risk. As mesothelioma can take so long to develop, it can be difficult to prosecute the companies responsible for the exposure as it can be decades since the initial exposure so there’s a likelihood the company responsible will no longer be in business.
Even in cases where a company has gone out of business, ASD’s solicitors have still successfully brought negligent companies to justice. If you have been exposed to asbestos, or secondary asbestos and have contracted mesothelioma then speak to our experienced solicitors today about making a claim.