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Mesothelioma Facts and FAQs

Mesothelioma Diagnosis

  • The average latency period (the time period between initial asbestos exposure and cancer diagnosis) for mesothelioma patients is between 35 and 40 years
  • Roughly 90 percent of mesothelioma victims report shortness of breath as their first cancer symptom
  • Mesothelioma is most often diagnosed in later stages of the disease, as early-stage symptoms may be mistaken for other respiratory conditions
  • Each year, more than 14,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed worldwide (2,000 to 3,000 in the United States)
  • Men are four times more likely to develop mesothelioma than women, with men accounting for 80 percent of asbestos-related cancer diagnoses
  • Mesothelioma is most common among Caucasians and Hispanics, with few African-Americans and Asian-Americans developing the disease
  • Pleural (lung) mesothelioma is the most common type of the disease (accounting for 70 to 90 percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses)
  • Mesothelioma is the leading type of occupational cancer, accounting for more than 50 percent of all work-related cancer diagnoses

Asbestos Regulation in the United States

  • Asbestos use peaked between the 1930s and 1970s
  • Asbestos was previously used in more than 3,000 products, including toasters and hair dryers
  • While 55 other countries have banned asbestos use, the United States still allows the mineral to be used under certain restrictions
  • The last asbestos mine operating in the United States was the KCAC mine in San Benito County, California, which did not close until 2002

Mesothelioma Cancer FAQs

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the lining of the body’s internal organs.

What are the different types of mesothelioma?

There are three main types of mesothelioma:

  1. Pleural, which affects the lining of the lungs
  2. Pericardial, which affects the lining of the heart
  3. Peritoneal, which affects the lining of the abdomen

These types are further broken down by the type cancer cells present in the tumors. These include epithelial, sarcomatoid and biphasic cells.

What causes mesothelioma?

Almost all mesothelioma diagnoses have been linked to asbestos exposure.

Pleural (lung) mesothelioma is caused by the inhalation of asbestos particles. When these fibers remain in the lungs, they can thicken the pleura (the lining of the lungs) and cause cancerous tumors to grow.

When asbestos is ingested through food or drink, pericardial (heart) or peritoneal (abdomen) mesothelioma may develop. Pericardial mesothelioma is believed to be caused by asbestos fibers that are absorbed into the bloodstream, enter the heart and become trapped in the pericardium (the lining of the heart). Peritoneal mesothelioma develops when asbestos particles travel through the digestive system and enter the peritoneum (lining of the abdomen).

What are the risk factors for mesothelioma?

The primary risk factor for developing mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, which most often occurs in the workplace. Occupations and industries with the highest rates of mesothelioma diagnoses include construction, shipbuilding, industrial and metal works, automotive mechanic work, and power and chemical plant work. Those who worked in these fields may have also exposed their loved ones to asbestos, as the mineral’s fibers could be carried home on a worker’s clothing, skin or hair.

While asbestos mines are no longer operating in the United States, residents near these deposits may still be at risk for mesothelioma if asbestos particles become airborne.

Can young people get mesothelioma?

While most mesothelioma victims are over the age of 50, there is a small percentage of young people who have developed the disease from second-hand asbestos exposure. It is extremely rare for a child to be diagnosed with mesothelioma. In fact, one study found that less than ten children and young adults were diagnosed with mesothelioma between 1999 and 2002. The medical community is not certain why children and young adults develop mesothelioma.

Does smoking cause mesothelioma?

No, smoking does not cause mesothelioma; however, smokers who have been exposed to asbestos are between 50 and 90 percent more likely to develop asbestos-related injuries (such as asbestosis, or the inflammation of lung tissue) and nearly twice as likely to develop mesothelioma. This is because smoking weakens the lungs and irritates the air passages, which makes it even more difficult for the lungs to eliminate asbestos particles.

Have there been cases of mesothelioma not caused by asbestos?

Mesothelioma not caused by asbestos is extremely rare. In a limited number of instances, mesothelioma may have been caused by exposure to radiation. In addition, exposure to erionite, a mineral found in parts of North America and Turkey, may also cause mesothelioma.

It is important to note that not all mesothelioma victims are people who worked in the asbestos industry. Some spouses and children of asbestos workers have developed mesothelioma as a result of second-hand asbestos exposure to a worker’s clothes or belongings.

How long after asbestos exposure will someone develop mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma has a long latency period, meaning that those exposed to asbestos typically do not develop cancer until decades later. Most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed between 20 and 50 years after the initial exposure.

What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?

Symptoms of mesothelioma vary depending on the area of the body affected by the cancer.

  • Pleural (lung) mesothelioma symptoms include chest pains, reduced lung capacity, shortness of breath, pain in the lower back or rib area, difficulty swallowing and coughing up blood.
  • Pericardial (heart) mesothelioma symptoms include heart palpitations and murmurs, chest pains, night sweats and difficulty breathing.
  • Peritoneal (abdomen) mesothelioma symptoms include weight loss, hernias, fatigue, bowel obstructions, and abdominal distention (fluid build-up in the abdomen that causes bloating).

While early-stage mesothelioma typically causes symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath, advanced-stage mesothelioma often produces more debilitating symptoms, including chest pains and significant weight loss.

What is the typical prognosis for mesothelioma victims?

The prognosis for mesothelioma victims varies based on their specific type of mesothelioma, as well as their overall health. The three main types of mesothelioma typically have the following prognoses:

  • Pleural (lung) mesothelioma: less than 18 months
  • Peritoneal (abdomen) mesothelioma: less than 12 months
  • Pericardial (heart) mesothelioma: less than six months

A number of other factors may contribute to a patient’s prognosis, including the type of cells present in the tumors (epithelial cells typically have a better prognosis than sarcomatoid and biphasic), the patient’s age, and whether they smoke; however, the most significant factor is the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis.

Mesothelioma Lawsuit FAQs

Are there time limits for filing a mesothelioma lawsuit?

Yes. The time limit for filing a lawsuit, known as a statute of limitations, varies depending on the state where the case is filed and the type of lawsuit filed (personal injury or wrongful death). This time period can range from one to several years following a mesothelioma diagnosis or death. An attorney can determine the specific statutes that may apply in your case.

How much does a lawyer cost?

Personal injury and wrongful death attorneys typically only charge their clients if they are able to produce favorable outcomes in their cases. This fee is typically collected out of the money recovered in the case.

How much can I collect through a lawsuit?

Some mesothelioma lawsuits have resulted in multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements; however, each case is different.

The amount of compensation you may receive depends on a number of factors specific to your case. These may include the number of dependents, the patient’s age and the stage of the cancer.

Who can I sue?

You may be able to sue one or more asbestos manufacturers depending on the source of your exposure.

What if the company responsible for my mesothelioma no longer exists or has gone bankrupt?

You may still be able to collect compensation. Many asbestos manufacturers were ordered to set up trust funds specifically for asbestos victims prior to dissolving or filing for bankruptcy. An attorney can help mesothelioma victims determine whether they qualify for trust fund compensation.

What are the stages of a mesothelioma lawsuit?

The stages of a mesothelioma lawsuit often follow the same process: First, your attorney will prepare your case by gathering information about where you were exposed to asbestos. Next, your attorney will collect evidence to support your case by obtaining medical records, interviewing witnesses or speaking with experts. Then, he or she may draft a complaint, a legal document that describes the cause of your injuries and why the company you are suing is responsible for your cancer, and file it in court. At this point, the company you are suing may offer you a settlement to avoid taking your case to trial. If you do not agree to any proposed settlements, your case will continue to trial, where a judge and jury will determine whether the defendant is liable for your injuries and, if so, calculate your award.

How long does a mesothelioma lawsuit take?

While some mesothelioma lawsuits can be resolved within a year, others may take several years. In many states, courts recognize the time-sensitive nature of these cases and can fast track mesothelioma lawsuits for this reason.

Mesothelioma Organizations FAQs

What is the Mesothelioma Research Foundation of America?

The Mesothelioma Research Foundation of American (MESORFA) is an organization dedicated to funding research for mesothelioma cures and offering cancer victims the chance to test new treatments in clinical trials.

How can the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs help?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides a variety of benefits for veterans, as well as their dependents and survivors. Veterans who were exposed to asbestos while serving and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma may be able to collect additional compensation by filing a claim through the [VA’s mesothelioma program][link].

Are there support group for mesothelioma victims and their families?

Given the thousands of people affected by mesothelioma, several support groups have been created to provide resources for mesothelioma victims and their families:

  • Asbestos Awareness Disease Organization: Founded by the family members of asbestos victims, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (“ADAO”) is dedicated to raising public awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and to working toward a global ban on the use of asbestos. ADAO creates national and international asbestos education programs and works on community issues relating to asbestos exposure. ADAO’s mission is to eliminate asbestos-related diseases and provides educational materials, support and resources to mesothelioma patients and their families. It has created several personal storytelling campaigns, such as “Share Your Story” and “6 Word Quotes.”
  • Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation: The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (known as the “Meso Foundation”) provides education and support for mesothelioma patients and their families. In addition, the Meso Foundation funds mesothelioma research projects and advocates for federal funding of mesothelioma research. The non-profit organization helps patients obtain the most up-to-date information on treatment options and helps them connect with mesothelioma treatment specialists.