Malignant mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive form of cancer that develops between the layers of protective membrane surrounding certain organs. The disease is relatively rare; every year, around 3,000 new patients are diagnosed with the cancer in the US.
Currently, there is no cure, although surgical treatments, along with chemotherapy and radiation, have been found to improve a patient’s prognosis. With that being said, mesothelioma is almost always fatal. After beginning treatment, patient survival rates stand at a tragically low 40% for the first year. After five years, the survival rate drops to around 8%.
Asbestos & Mesothelioma: Are We Safe From Industrial Dangers?
According to Cancer.org, as many as 3 out of every 4 cases of mesothelioma are directly linked to asbestos exposure. Asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral fiber that is remarkably resistant to heat and electricity, was used at one time or another in almost every American industry.
When asbestos fibers come loose, and become airborne, they are easily inhaled. After settling in the lungs, asbestos can get lodged in the lung’s outer tissue, puncturing the membrane and resulting in the development of cancerous tumors.
As you would expect, most people diagnosed with mesothelioma worked in close proximity to asbestos at some point in their lives. But cases of spouses and children developing the cancer have also been reported, after a worker brought the fibers home attached to clothes or equipment.
Is Asbestos Still Around?
During the 20th century, asbestos became the most common form of insulation, lining the walls and roofs of most American homes. Industrial use, especially on naval shipyards during World War II, was widespread, and construction workers are still most likely to contract mesothelioma.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 11 million Americans were exposed to asbestos between the years of 1940 and 1978. By the 1980s, the dangers of asbestos had become glaringly obvious, and industrial use became strictly regulated. 10 years before, the leak of sensitive US court documents revealed that industrial employers had been aware of asbestos’ risks beginning in the 1930s, but failed to warn employees or the public.
Tragically, mesothelioma is often hidden by a “latency period.” Symptoms of the cancer only appear years after initial exposure. At a minimum, this period lasts 15 years, although the majority of cases take up to 40 years to visibly develop. As a result, the number of deaths related to asbestos exposure has held steady for years.
While federal regulation has drastically reduced your current chances of being exposed, patients continue to be struck by the horrible disease. In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reported just over 2,500 fatalities. Fatality statistics remained at that level for the next five years, actually peaking around 2,700 in 2004. In 2010, 2574 people died.
Under the foot of industry pressures, the United States remains one of the world’s only developed nations that has not prohibited asbestos use entirely. The deadly mineral can still be found in insulation, vinyl flooring, and pipes. Gaskets, brake pads, and even some clothing contain trace amounts.
9 / 11, The World Trade Center Disaster & Asbestos
The World Trade Center’s North Tower, completed in 1970, was built using extensive amounts of asbestos-containing materials. The NIH reports that “when the building was attacked, hundreds of tons of asbestos were released into the atmosphere.”
In a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers tracked the health of 9,442 first-responders, rescue workers and recovery employees. 69% of those working in the aftermath of 9/11 reported newly-developed or exacerbated respiratory problems. A full 61% of workers without pre-existing respiratory ailments reported experiencing troubling new symptoms.
Tragically, the men and women who came to New York City’s aid after the terrible events of 9/11 are at an increased risk of developing malignant mesothelioma.
Do I Have Any Of The Symptoms?
There are several forms of malignant mesothelioma. One affects the lining around your lungs (pleural mesothelioma), another develops within the lining of your abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma), and the last can penetrate the space around your heart (pericardial mesothelioma).
Symptoms differ, but watch for signs of:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Painful cough and / or wheezing
- Excessive fatigue
- Coughing up blood
- Unexplained masses, or tumors
- Irregular bowel function
- Weight loss
- Venous blood clots
- Low blood sugar
Can I Still File A Mesothelioma Lawsuit?
Yes, if you were exposed to asbestos in the workplace, and developed mesothelioma, it is still possible to hold your employer accountable.
In New York State, the statute of limitations on mesothelioma lawsuits is three years after the date of diagnosis. For the survivors of a loved one, wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within two years.
Due to mesothelioma’s widespread recognition, and the construction industry’s accepted complicity in asbestos exposure, there are numerous avenues available for compensation. Some major employers have even established trusts to provide sufferers with necessary funds.