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Asbestos & Mesothelioma
Table of Contents
- 1 Asbestos & Mesothelioma
- 1.1 What is Asbestos?
- 1.2 What Did the Asbestos Companies Know And When Did They Know It?
- 1.3 What Trades And Occupations Worked With Asbestos?
- 1.4 What Types of Products Contained Asbestos?
- 1.5 Why Was Asbestos Used in Building And Insulation Products?
- 1.6 If I Was Exposed To Asbestos Many Years Ago, Why Was I Just Diagnosed With Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer or Asbestosis?
- 1.7 Could I Have Been Exposed to Asbestos In My Home?
- 1.8 What is Mesothelioma? How do you get Mesothelioma?
- 2 Types of Mesothelioma
- 3 Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
- 4 Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms
- 5 Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms
- 6 Tunica Vaginalis Mesothelioma Symptoms
- 7 Diagnostic Imaging Technologies
- 8 Traditional Treatment Options
- 9 Surgery
- 10 Chemotherapy
- 11 Radiation Therapy
- 12 Non-Traditional Treatments
- 13 Photodynamic Therapy
- 14 Gene Therapy
- 15 Immunotherapy
Asbestos is a mineral that is crushed and milled into a fine particulate, and shipped to corporations for building and insulation materials. Asbestos mines around the world, many in Canada, produced over 250 million tons of asbestos for use in the United States between 1890 and 1970. Asbestos was added to a variety of products including insulation, automotive brakes, fireproofing, pipe covering, cements, refractory materials, gaskets, floor tiles and joint compounds.
The dangers of asbestos were known to the companies that made these products as early as the 1920s. However, asbestos was sold and used widely without warnings up until the 1980s. Asbestos products are still not banned in the United States and other countries but are no longer used as widely. Alternative materials were available that could have been used in place of asbestos.
During the installation, repair, maintenance, renovation and removal of asbestos materials, the products were cut, scraped, sanded and otherwise altered. Some materials, such as cements, were mixed at job sites using raw asbestos fibers. These processes created dust, which was breathed in by the laborers working with and around these materials. Dust from these products also traveled throughout buildings and factories and ships, and remained airborne for weeks. When swept, these materials were re-suspended in the air — where they were breathed in again by workers in the vicinity.
A wide array of workers were exposed to asbestos including shipyard workers, factory workers, pipefitters, sheet metal workers, plumbers, laborers, machinists, mechanics, powerhouse workers, and electricians. One cloud of dust from asbestos products can contain millions or billions of fibers, and even a small amount of asbestos can cause lung damage. Injuries also occur to people who washed their family member’s clothing after they returned home from work and to individuals who used asbestos products, such as floor tiles, in their homes.
Often, individuals won’t immediately recall how they were exposed to asbestos, and may believe that they were not exposed to asbestos at all. A careful examination and review of a person’s work and life history often reveals exposures to asbestos products that may not be readily apparent.
The companies that manufactured, sold and installed asbestos products had extensive knowledge of the deadly hazards of asbestos as early as 1920. Yet, these corporations waited decades to provide warnings to workers and to the general public. In some cases, warnings were never provided.
In addition to this actual knowledge on the part of asbestos corporations, the evidence available in medical books and journals revealed the dangers of asbestos exposure long before millions of American workers were exposed.
Please continue reading about asbestos history here.
There were a wide variety of trades and jobs that were exposed to asbestos dust from building products or raw asbestos. It is not just the workers who worked directly with asbestos and asbestos products that are getting sick from asbestos diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. The victims include workers who worked around or lived with people who used these materials. Because asbestos dust becomes airborne and can be invisible, the fibers travel throughout a worksite and expose all of the workers at that location. In a single sweeping, millions and millions of asbestos fibers can be released into the breathing zone of anybody in that vicinity. Over the course of a career, a worker could have breathed several billion fibers, some of which lodge in the lung, and cause injury.
Some of the occupations that are typically associated with the onset of mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases include:
- Pipe Coverers
- Brake Mechanics
- Auto Mechanics
- Merchant Marine Seaman
- Cement Finishers
- Foundry Workers
- Navy Yard Workers / Yard birds
- Paper workers
- Automotive mechanics
- Sheet metal workers
- Crane Operators
- Aircraft Mechanics
- Masonry Workers
- Plant workers
- Powerhouse Workers
- Railroad Workers
- Maintenance Workers
- Paper Mill Workers
These are just some of the occupations involved. If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos disease (lung cancer, mesothelioma or asbestosis), contact Belluck & Fox to have your claim evaluated.
- Pipe Covering
- Acoustical Plaster
- Brake Linings
- Sprayed-on Fireproofing
- Floor Tiles
- Insulating Blankets
- Cigarette Filters
- Hair Dryers
- Packing materials
- Insulating Tape
- Joint Compounds
- Refractory products
- Block Insulation
- Asphalt products
- Ceiling Tiles
- Electrical Products
- Lab Equipment
This is just a partial list of asbestos-containing products. Asbestos was often used as an ingredient or component in these products between 1942 and the 1980s, and there were some products such as gaskets that contained asbestos well after the 1980s.
The primary reason that asbestos was used in building products was as a binder or filler material. It was cheap and easily available. It is stringy and resilient, and thus made a good binder. Its resilience also reduced the breakage of the products between the factory and the worksite. In pipe covering and other materials, asbestos created air pockets which provided heat resistance.
Asbestos was marketed for its “fire resistant” qualities. In reality, at approximately 1200 degrees, asbestos transforms into an inert mineral. Other materials were available, even in the 1930′s and thereafter, that could have been used (and, in fact, were used) as substitutes for asbestos without any sacrifice in product integrity or heat resistance. The asbestos industry peddled asbestos as a “magic mineral,” creating a demand for the material, without advising of the dangers of asbestos. As a result, thousands of American workers were injured and killed. It was unnecessary and could have been avoided.
If I Was Exposed To Asbestos Many Years Ago, Why Was I Just Diagnosed With Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer or Asbestosis?
Asbestos illnesses and cancers are diseases of latency. This means that injuries from exposure to asbestos fibers do not become apparent until at least ten years after exposure. In many cases, diseases occur over 60 years after exposure to asbestos fibers. Therefore, individuals exposed to asbestos in the 1940′s, 50′s, 60′s, 7’0s, and 80’s may be diagnosed with an asbestos disease now.
Asbestos is asbestos, whether encountered in the workplace or at home. Even small amounts of asbestos and infrequent exposure can cause injuries. There are many reports of spouses and children who washed their husbands’ and fathers’ clothing contracting mesothelioma, a fatal asbestos-related cancer. Simply being in the same room or in the vicinity of someone else using asbestos can result in asbestos disease.
Exposure in the home could have also occurred when renovation or repair work was performed. Products such as joint compounds, wallboards, cements, floor tiles, wires, mastic, ceiling tiles and boiler insulation often contained asbestos. If these products were mixed, grinded, cut, sawed, sprayed, removed or otherwise manipulated, banged or damaged, they could have released significant asbestos fibers into your home. The fibers remain airborne for weeks. You can’t smell or see asbestos fibers.
In home exposure cases, we investigate every possible exposure to establish the manufacturers and sellers of the materials that were used. We use a wide variety of resources and our experience to prosecute your case. If you believe you have been injured by asbestos used in your home, contact Belluck & Fox by clicking here.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelial cells. Those cells line the body’s cavities and internal organs. When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, the fibers can become lodged in the pleura, the thin, delicate membrane that lines and encases the lung. They can also lodge in the stomach or other organs.
The asbestos fibers irritate and create changes in the cells of the pleura, causing tumors to develop. This is known as pleural mesothelioma, the most common type of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma in the stomach lining is peritoneal mesothelioma. The cancer can develop in other parts of the body, too. It can attack the tissue sac that contains the heart or the tissues that surround the testes.
As the disease progresses, the cancerous cells can metastasize, or spread. As time passes, breathing, sleeping and eating become more difficult. Even the normal activities of daily living can become a challenge.
Types of Mesothelioma
The type of mesothelioma that a person develops depends on the primary organ that is affected.
There are four types of mesothelioma:
- Pleural Mesothelioma. This form of asbestos cancer is found in the outer lining of the lungs called the mesothelium. This is the most common type of mesothelioma and has been studied to a far greater degree than any of the other forms of the disease.
- Peritoneal Mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the lining of the abdomen. Fewer than 20 percent of mesothelioma cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year are peritoneal.
- Pericardial Mesothelioma. Pericardial mesothelioma attacks the pericardium or the tissue sac that contains the heart and the primary blood vessels. Pericardial mesothelioma accounts for just one percent of all mesothelioma cases.
- Tunica Vaginalis Mesothelioma. This type of mesothelioma is found in the tissues surrounding the testes. It is the rarest form of the disease, affecting less than one percent of all mesothelioma patients.
The symptoms patients experience vary depending on the type of mesothelioma they have as well as the stage of the disease. Symptoms can also vary from patient to patient. Below are the primary symptoms experienced by mesothelioma patients.
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
Pleural mesothelioma symptoms are similar to a number of other respiratory diseases. However, anyone with a history of asbestos exposure should be aware of the symptoms and seek medical attention immediately if exhibiting any of the symptoms.
Symptoms commonly associated with pleural mesothelioma include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Pleural Effusion
- Weight loss
- Persistent cough
- Loss of appetite
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms
Peritoneal mesothelioma patients most often experience the following symptoms:
- Ascites (buildup of abdominal fluid)
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Night sweats
Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms
- Extreme chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Constant and acute coughing
Tunica Vaginalis Mesothelioma Symptoms
With so few documented cases of this cancer, little is known about the symptoms. However, medical articles detailing specific cases point to a testicular mass as the predominant symptom.
Diagnosing mesothelioma can be difficult for physicians, especially if your family doctor or pulmonologist is not familiar with asbestos-related diseases. Many patients suffer from debilitating symptoms for months before they are properly diagnosed and treatments begin.
When you go to the doctor with the presence of symptoms, your medical team will use several tests and procedures to determine the cause of your discomfort. The doctor will begin by asking questions about your symptoms and when you started experiencing them.
It is important that you let your physician know that you were exposed to asbestos if you suspect you have mesothelioma. Your doctor should have a thorough understanding of your background and history to help ensure an appropriate diagnosis.
Diagnostic Imaging Technologies
Many technologies are available to allow doctors to view organs and tissues and detect the presence of fluid or tumors. Imaging technologies help your doctor not only make a mesothelioma diagnosis but also determine a treatment plan and track your response to the treatments.
- X-Ray Imaging
- Computed Tomography (CT)
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
- PET-CT (Integrated Positron Emission Tomography – Computed Tomography)
While there is currently no known cure for malignant mesothelioma, treatments are available with the most common being surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Your doctor will recommend one treatment or a combination of therapies that are best for your situation. The course of treatment will depend on a number of factors including the location of the disease, the stage of the disease, your age, overall health and your preferences.
The information provided throughout this website is for your information only, and should NOT take the place of a full medical diagnosis.
Traditional Treatment Options
There are three traditional kinds of treatment for patients with malignant mesothelioma:
- Surgery (physical removal of the cancer)
- Chemotherapy (using drugs to fight the cancer)
- Radiation Therapy (using high-dose x-rays to kill cancer cells)
Doctors will often use two or more of these treatment courses jointly to provide the maximum likelihood of success. This “multi-modal” approach holds the most promise for survival of malignant mesothelioma patients. Trimodality therapy, in which all three of these modalities are used, is considered the most effective, and aggressive, approach.
There are several types of surgeries used to treat mesothelioma and the disease type and stage will determine the type of surgery. Mesothelioma tumors are usually large and difficult to completely remove, so surgery is usually combined with other cancer treatments to ensure the best results in destroying the tumor.
There are generally two types of surgical methods for the treatment of mesothelioma:
- Palliative Procedures are those which treat the symptoms of mesothelioma, providing relief for the patient, without aggressively treating the disease itself.
- Chest Tube Drainage and Pleurodesis – The goal of chemical pleurodesis is to cause an irritation between the two layers covering the lung. This irritation causes an obliteration of the space between the layers where the fluid accumulated, and prevents further fluid to be able to accumulate there. There are a variety of agents, which can be used including talc and bleomycin. As the pleural space is closed, fluid drains out of the chest cavity using a chest tube.
- Pleuroperitoneal Shunting has been used in patients who have failed chemical pleurodesis, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Pleuroperitoneal shunting can provide effective palliation in patients with a trapped lung or others who have failed treatment.
- Potentially Curative Options are medical procedures that attempt to remove all gross disease with ‘curative intent’. Residual microscopic disease cells are then removed through Adjuvant therapy.
- Pleurectomy/Decortication is a surgical procedure where the pleura, the membrane lining the lungs and chest cavity, is removed, without removing the entire lung. This treatment option is usually performed on patients in the early staging of mesothelioma.
- Extra-Pleural Pneumonectomy (EPP) is the removal of the pleura, diaphragm, pericardium, and the whole lung involved with the tumor. EPP is considered a radical therapy and is not frequently performed by most surgeons, patients are referred to centers specializing in these treatments.Both the above ‘potentially curative’ procedures are typically used in combination with other treatment options (multi-modal therapy).
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and may be used as the primary treatment to mesothelioma, or it may be used as part of a multi-modal approach. Chemotherapy is referred to as systemic treatment because the drug is introduced into the patient’s bloodstream and travels throughout the body killing cancer cells. The drugs may be in pill form, or injected into the body through a needle.
In addition to killing cancer cells, chemotherapy drugs work to restrict the uncontrolled spread of abnormal cancer cells – preventing them from dividing and multiplying.
Chemotherapy is not considered a ‘curative’ approach for the treatment of mesothelioma and instead focuses on shrinking existing tumors (usually prior to surgery – neoadjuvant therapy), controlling the spread of the cancerous cells, and removing residual cancer cells following surgery (adjuvant therapy).
To effectively treat mesothelioma, more than one drug may be used in chemotherapy. Depending on the drugs, the amount taken and the treatment period, there may be side effects. Historically, doxorubicin has been the most widely used single chemotherapy drug. Other newer drugs, including gemcitabine, cisplatin, carboplatin, epirubicin, cyclophosphamide, ifosfamide, vinorelbine, paclitaxel, and methotrexate, now are often preferred and are usually given in different combinations.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays help to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. The radiation may come from outside the body from a machine (external radiation) or from radioactive materials placed directly in or around cancer cells through thin plastic tubes (internal or implant radiation).
In pleural mesothelioma, it is difficult to irradiate tumor tissue successfully without injuring nearby organs like the lungs, heart, and liver. However, radiation therapy can be very effective in relieving pain in certain situations. Factors which can impact the use of radiation treatment include the volume of the tumor and how near it is to vital organs.
Photodynamic therapy destroys cancer cells by using the energy from light and may also be effective when combined with surgery. Although this treatment is in the experimental stage for mesothelioma, it has shown promising results in treating other cancers. In the procedure, the patient receives a photosensitizer (a drug which makes cells sensitive to specific wavelengths of light) which collects in cancerous cells but not in healthy cells. Once the cells have been sensitized, fiber optic cables are placed in the body (usually through open-chest surgery) so that the correct frequency of light can be focused on the tumor. This causes the photosensitizer drug to produce a toxic oxygen molecule which kills the cancer cell.
This is a new treatment, currently in clinical trails. This approach allows treatment to target tumors, rather than destroying healthy cells which is the negative of traditional chemotherapy. In gene therapy, cancer is treated by altering genetic defects that allow a tumor to develop. A “suicide gene” is inserted directly into the tumor, making the cells sensitive to a normally ineffectual drug. The drug is then administered to the newly sensitive cancer cells and it destroys those cells while leaving the healthy cells unharmed.
Immunotherapy (or biological therapy) treats cancer by using the body’s own immune system fight cancer cells. Another name often applies to this therapy, biological response modifiers (BRMs). Though not yet obtainable, promising clinical studies are underway for immunotherapy.