Malignant mesothelioma (Mĕz-oh-thee-lee-oh-mŭh) is often referred to as “asbestos cancer”. It is caused by exposure to the naturally-occurring mineral, asbestos, which until recently was utilized all over the world because of its light weight, durability and heat-resistant capabilities. The barb-tipped fibers of the asbestos mineral become airborne when the products they are used in deteriorate with age or are sawed, pounded, drilled or sanded, such as during the installation or removal of many building products manufactured throughout the 20th century. Once these extremely fibrous particles are airborne, they can be inhaled or ingested by anyone nearby.
In the body, the asbestos fibers lodge themselves in cell tissue, where they fester, causing the body to build up scar tissue around them. Over many years, the microscopic fibers can cause cancerous cells to develop in the body’s mesothelium, a sac-like membrane which lines and protects most of the body’s internal organs. The purpose of the mesothelium is to release a lubricating fluid which allows internal organs to move freely within the body during their normal function. The lungs, for instance, move with every inhalation and exhalation. Similar mesothelium sacs line the heart, which moves when it beats, and the abdomen, in which the spleen, stomach, bowel, kidneys and liver all move as they digest and process what we eat and drink.
Once mesothelioma takes hold, it can be a very aggressive cancer. Two-thirds of all mesothelioma cases develop in the pleura, or the lining of the lungs. The growth of the cancer causes excess fluid to build up in the chest cavity, exerting pressure on the lungs and making it difficult to breathe.
The remaining one-third of mesothelioma cases affect other membranes in the body. They begin in the peritoneal lining which provides lubrication for the organs inside the abdominal cavity. The cancer causes the lubricating fluid in the peritoneal membrane to build up and also to thicken, restricting movement of the internal organs and eventually obstructing them. It is rarer for mesothelioma to occur in the pericardium, which lines the heart, and in the lining of the reproductive organs, but it does happen. Men are affected more often than women, usually because they are more likely to have worked in an occupation that exposed them to asbestos fibers.
Almost 3000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed every year in the United States. The number is even higher in western Europe. Because it can take thirty to fifty years for this cancer to produce noticeable symptoms, some men and women who were exposed to asbestos in the 1970s have yet to be diagnosed. That means the number of new cases annually has likely not yet peaked. It is estimated that up to eight million Americans may have been exposed to asbestos in their lifetimes, a frightening prospect.
The mesothelioma lawyers at Baron & Budd take this deadly cancer very seriously.
There is no cure, and the disease can be very aggressive, with many patients not living more than ten months after diagnosis. The fact that asbestos still is not banned in the United States seems unconscionable, yet that is the reality. Asbestos is an inexpensive, easily obtainable fiber, and the manufacturers who continue to incorporate it into their products, mostly brake linings and roofing products nowadays, have lobbied heavily to keep the use of asbestos products legal in this country.