Mesothelioma: Description and History
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What is it?
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelium, a membrane that covers and protects most of the body's internal organs. Most people who develop the disease inhaled asbestos particles at some point in their lives. Mesothelioma is more common among men in part because of those who had jobs in which they were exposed to asbestos particles, but it can appear in women as well. Approximately 2,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year.
The mesothelium is composed of two layers of cells: one layer surrounds an organ and the other forms a sac around it. A lubricating fluid between these layers allows moving organs, such as the expanding and contracting lungs and the beating heart, to glide easily against adjacent structures.
The different types of mesothelioma are named after the different areas of the mesothelium in which it develops. The most common type is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lungs, the cavity of the lungs and their protective lining. Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the stomach and abdomen. The rarest type, pericardial mesothelioma, affects the heart and the cavity that surrounds it.
The extent of the disease, like many other forms of cancer, is described in stages. There is no established staging system for peritoneal mesothelioma. The stages in the more common system used for describing the severity of pleural mesothelioma are:
- Stage Ia - the malignant cells grow in the outer layer of the pleura on one side of the chest and may have grown in the pleural tissue covering the diaphragm
- Stage Ib - mesothelioma has begun to spread to the pleural layer closest to the lung on one side of the chest
- Stage II - mesothelioma has enlarged to form a tumor mass and may have begun spreading into the lung tissue or diaphragm muscle, typically still in only side of the body
- Stage III - mesothelioma has spread to the chest wall, the pericardium, or to the lymph nodes, usually still in the same side of the body
- Stage IV - the cancer has metastasized (spread) to different parts of the body, possibly including to different parts of the chest wall, the peritoneum, the pleura on the other side of the body, chest organs, and lymph nodes on the other side of the chest or above the collarbone. At this point, mesothelioma cannot be removed by surgery.
A Brief History
At the turn of the twentieth century, asbestos was considered to be an ideal building material due to its low cost, insulating properties, and ability to resist fire. Researchers, however, began to notice unusually high numbers of deaths and lung problems in asbestos mining towns. By the 1930's, reputable medical journals began publishing studies that linked asbestos to cancer. In 1955, scientists conclusively confirmed the connection.
But despite these warnings, contractors and manufacturers continued using asbestos for many of their projects. In many cases, despite the availability of safer alternative materials such as fiberglass, they chose to ignore the evidence, exposing working families to health risks they had no knowledge they were facing. During the twentieth century an estimated 30 million tons of asbestos was used to build office buildings, industrial sites, schools, homes, shipyards and everyday items such as toasters, dryers and ironing boards.
Asbestos continues to be a health risk because it is still contained in buildings and products that were built decades ago. Mesothelioma can also develop up to 40 years after the initial, sometimes even very limited exposure to dangerous asbestos fibers. The first lawsuits against companies and manufacturers responsible for causing “asbestos related cancer” surfaced in 1929. Since then, numerous lawsuits against these entities have been filed, many resulting in large settlements for victims of mesothelioma and their families.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be entitled to compensation. An experienced mesothelioma (asbestos litigation) lawyer can advise you of your rights and options.
Contact us today to find an experienced mesothelioma lawyer near you.