Mesothelioma and Asbestos
Asbestos is a fibrous material that can cause chronic (and sometimes terminal) illnesses when its fibers are inhaled and become trapped in the lungs. Asbestos was once commonly used as a fire retardant in buildings and homes. As the result of public pressure, homes and buildings are no longer constructed with asbestos. However, asbestos is still used in many products.
Unfortunately, long-term exposure to asbestos has been linked to mesothelioma, a rare and lethal form of cancer that invades the linings of the lungs and other organs. In this article, we'll discuss the risk factors associated with asbestos exposure, mesothelioma's symptoms, treatment options, and other important information.
Asbestos Exposure: Risk Factors
Most people have been (or will be) exposed to asbestos at some point during their lives, but usually not to the extent or frequency that it causes illness. Most homes and office buildings constructed before the 1980s contain at least some asbestos that may lead to minimal exposure. However, those who are exposed to the material on a regular basis for an extended period of time are at the greatest risk. For example, asbestos miners and workers involved in the manufacture of asbestos products have the highest rates of asbestos-related illness. Others who may have experienced long-term asbestos exposure include construction workers, shipyard workers, drywall removers, firefighters, demolition workers, automobile mechanics, and military personnel.
While mesothelioma is still relatively rare, approximately 3,000 new cases of the disease are reported each year in the United States. The vast majority of mesothelioma cases can be traced back to asbestos exposure. In the typical case, several decades have passed since the patient was exposed to asbestos. To illustrate this concept, we'll use the hypothetical case of Richard. Richard worked in the construction industry in the late 1960s and 1970s. His job involved installing asbestos insulation in homes, schools, and other buildings.
In 1979, Richard decided to embark on a career change. He went back to school and earned a degree in business management. Richard later worked as a business manager until he retired a few years ago. For quite some time, Richard has been feeling unwell. He recently went to his doctor and was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Richard is surprised since it's been more than 30 years since he worked with asbestos. His doctor explains that she's seen cases of mesothelioma in patients whose exposure to asbestos occurred up to fifty years ago. In fact, the typical case of mesothelioma occurs 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure.
If you've been exposed to asbestos, it's important to recognize the symptoms of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma's symptoms may include coughing, chest pain, breathing difficulties, abdominal pain, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and abdominal bloating and lumps.
Unfortunately, most mesothelioma patients aren't diagnosed until their illness has reached an advanced stage. Most doctors will recommend palliative therapy, which can help relieve the patient's pain and make life more comfortable. This may consist of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
Asbestos and the Law
Most regulations protecting individuals from asbestos exposure pertain to the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has standards specifically protecting workers in two distinct industries, construction and shipbuilding. In addition, a third standard covers exposure in general (including brake repair, custodial work, and asbestos-product manufacturing). Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) extends OSHA's protections to state, county, and other local governmental workers who may be exposed to asbestos.
Liability for asbestos-related illnesses usually falls under product liability law and is based on strict liability, negligence, or breach of warranty. The first lawsuits involving asbestos-related claims were filed in the courts in the 1960s. Since that time, the courts have overseen hundreds of thousands of asbestos lawsuits. The lawsuits include claims that asbestos caused mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses, such as asbestosis, the fibrous scarring of lung tissue. Asbestosis often causes shortness of breath and can lead to cardiac failure.
Many of the asbestos lawsuits have settled, whereas others are still pending. In addition, new asbestos lawsuits continue to be filed on a regular basis.