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Despite parodying by late-night television commercials, malignant mesothelioma is a horrific cancer with no known cure. It is usually deadly. Some types of mesothelioma are resistant to standard cancer therapies like radiation and chemotherapy. Mesothelioma is known only to be caused by exposure to the mineral asbestos. This aggressive disease strikes thousands of Americans every single year. But what is mesothelioma, exactly?
Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the cells lining certain organs, including the lungs and the heart. Studies have shown that long-term and continued exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing mesothelioma. However, short-term and even single-term exposures can also trigger the disease. Despite different types of mesothelioma tumors and differing mesothelioma cell types, all forms of mesothelioma have in common their main cause, which is exposure to asbestos.
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common of the malignant mesotheliomas, accounting for about 75 percent of all cases. Pleural mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs, called the pleura.
Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdomen, known as the peritoneum. This is the second most common type of mesothelioma, accounting for about twenty percent of all cases. Peritoneal mesothelioma is more aggressive than other mesotheliomas, spreading quickly from the abdomen to other parts of the body.
Pericardial mesothelioma is one of the rarest of the mesotheliomas. This cancer develops in the lining of the heart, known as the pericardium. Only about one percent of all mesothelioma patients develop pericardial mesothelioma.
Testicular mesothelioma develops in the lining of the testicles. It is the rarest of mesothelioma cancers, making misdiagnosis quite common.
In addition to the various locations where mesothelioma can strike, there are also four different types of mesothelioma cells. Determining the cell structure of a patient’s mesothelioma is one of the first steps in establishing a plan of action for treatment of the disease.
Epithelial cells are the most common type of mesothelioma cells, accounting for between 50 to 75 percent of all cases. When viewed under a microscope, epithelial mesothelioma cells are organized and uniformly shaped, forming an elongated pattern that is well-structured with visible nuclei.
Sarcomatoid cells are less common, appearing in only seven to twenty percent of cases. These cells are irregular in pattern, appearing to grow randomly out of supportive structures like bones or muscles near the affected lining. Microscopically, these cells appear long and spindle-shaped without a clearly defined nucleus. Sarcomatoid mesothelioma cells are resistant to treatment, making the prognosis for this type of mesothelioma very poor.
Biphasic cells are a mix of both epithelial and sarcomatoid cells. This is the second most common cellular type of mesothelioma – occurring in 20 to 40 percent of cases. Since both well-defined epithelial and random-shaped sarcomatoid cells are present, they tend to form differentiated groups within the tumor, making it more complicated to diagnose and treat, which is compounded by the sarcomatoid cells’ resistance to therapy.
Papillary cells are a very rare variation of epithelioma cells. Papillary mesothelioma cells are primarily found in women of child-bearing age. These cells generally develop in the lining of the abdomen, and are usually benign. When papillary mesothelioma cells are detected in men, it usually occurs in the testicular lining. Prognosis is generally favorable for both genders, since papillary mesothelioma cells generally do not spread to other parts of the body.
To date, no unique cellular mutation in lungs exposed to asbestos has been identified as a tool for enabling scientists to link a patient’s lung cancer to his or her exposure to asbestos or to differentiate it from lung cancer caused by smoking. Mesothelioma patients, on the other hand, can connect their disease to asbestos exposure a bit more easily. One factor that has long provided evidence of a cause and effect relationship between asbestos and mesothelioma is the ratio of asbestos exposure to mesothelioma cases. Mesothelioma is practically non-existent in people who have not been exposed to asbestos. In 2016 a team of pathologists in Vancouver, British Columbia, developed an important tool for distinguishing pleural mesothelioma, which originates in the lining of the lung, from lung cancer which has metastasized into the pleural lining from elsewhere in the lung, an important distinction for determining treatment and liability.
The BRCA1 protein, which helps suppress the growth of tumors, is produced by most humans in the BAP1 gene. But people who carry a mutation of the BAP1 gene do not produce the protein needed for tumor suppression and, in those people, scientists have demonstrated a higher susceptibility to mesothelioma. When such individuals are exposed to asbestos, they are far more likely to receive a mesothelioma diagnosis than other asbestos-exposed individuals, creating scientifically verifiable evidence that the cancer they are dealing with is mesothelioma and not lung cancer. This research corroborates a study done the year before at the University of Hawaii and might eventually also help explain why so few people exposed to asbestos ever actually develop mesothelioma.
The relative rarity of the disease makes receiving a diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma all the more devastating. Documenting how you were exposed to asbestos is a critical first step in determining whether you can file suit against the asbestos manufacturers who failed to warn you about its deadliness. It is important that you seek legal counsel as soon as possible. Baron & Budd can help. Contact us online or call us at 855-280-7664 to learn more about your legal options.