Mesothelioma: What You Should Know
What to do if you Think You Might Have Contracted Asbestos-Caused Mesothelioma
At this time, you may have no symptoms of mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, but if you suspect you have ever been exposed to significant levels of asbestos you should make an appointment with a doctor to be tested for related diseases. Whether you came into contact with the this dangerous product 20 or 30 years ago, through your work, through the work of a family member, or because of your long-term proximity to a factory or mine, early diagnosis and treatment is very important. Early detection and treatment can slow the progression of mesothelioma, cancer and other diseases. It may also prolong your life and diminish or slow the adverse effects of these illnesses. Experienced California personal injury lawyers feel that if you wait for symptoms of mesothelioma or lung cancer to appear, it could be too late for medical treatments to be of much help.
Who is Responsible for your Exposure?
It may be that you worked around the dangerous product for years and were never told that you could be in danger of contracting disease, like lung cancer. Or you developed the ailment because your employer provided you with inadequate safety equipment to ensure your safety. Now you have the cancer, your prognosis is dire and your family may one day be left without your emotional and financial support. Shouldn’t someone be held accountable for this?
The answer is “Yes.” But who might that “someone” be? Depending upon how you were exposed, the possible responsible parties include:
An employer: Either your employer or the employer of a family member who lived with you and exposed you to second-hand asbestos, bringing it home on clothing or other items. If lax safety measures in the work environment contributed to your injury, an employer may be liable.
Manufacturers of affected products: The history of certain manufacturers’ cover-up of the risks of exposure is well documented, and no manufacturer of these products can claim total lack of knowledge of the risks inherent in working with or around these products.
School Districts, Municipalities and other Government Entities: Government institutions often used asbestos-containing products in the construction of their buildings, and if these were not removed properly during renovations or were allowed to deteriorate, releasing fibers into the work environment, the government entity that owned or maintained the building could be liable.
Commercial or residential property landlords: Like government entities, if commercial or residential landlords allowed crumbling materials to deteriorate and release fibers into the air you breathed at work or in your home, they may be liable for causing your lung cancer or other diseases.
Demolition companies: If a building where you lived or worked had these dangerous products incorporated into its construction and a demolition company removing these during renovation that did not employ proper safety measures to keep harmful fibers from escaping into the air, they could be held responsible for your illness.
What Forms of Compensation are Available to Victims?
The answer to this question will depend on how you came in contact with asbestos, who was responsible for your exposure, and the extent of effects on your health. You may be entitled to some or all of the following damages:
Medical Bill Coverage: For the expenses involved diagnosing and treating your disease;
Medical Monitoring: To watch for and detect any future health effects of exposure, even if you don’t currently suffer from cancer;
Pain and Suffering: For the physical pain engendered by living with mesothelioma, lung cancer or other diseases;
Wrongful Death: To compensate the survivors of the victim who died from exposure;
Lost Wages: For the time that you had to take off of work, whether that was a few days or the rest of your normal projected work life, to seek treatment for or otherwise take care of your ailments;
Impairment of Earning Capacity: For any decrease in your earning abilities because you have had to cut back on hours or give up a job that you can no longer perform due to disability associated with your diseases;
Loss of Enjoyment of Life: For the things you have had give up, like swimming with your grandchildren or walking your dog, because mesothelioma or lung cancer has left you in pain, diminished your breathing capacity or left you otherwise unable to do what you used to do;
Mental Anguish: For the fear of knowing you may develop these conditions in the future because of your exposure;
Loss of consortium: For the loss of the assistance and companionship of your spouse, who was left debilitated or died of from exposure that caused your health problems;
Life-Care: For your non-medical needs, such as cooking and cleaning, that you now need assistance with because contamination left you with mesothelioma or lung cancer; and
Punitive Damages: If the person or business that caused you to contract the cancer maliciously failed to protect you from harm even though the risk of harm was known.
Diagnosis of Malignant Mesothelioma
Making a diagnosis of this condition is difficult because malignant mesothelioma is a rare cancer that mimics the symptoms of other illnesses. In addition, the normal tests for identifying lung and stomach cancers often provide false negatives when the cancer is present.
Some of the tests that might be used to diagnose relevant mesothelioma are chest X-rays and stomach or chest CT scans (computerized tomography scans). However, the only definitive test available is a biopsy, which involves the removal of a small piece of affected tissue for a laboratory to examine for the presence of cancerous cells. The method used for removing tissue for biopsy will depend on the location of the suspected site. Some options include:
Fine-needle Aspiration: A needle is inserted into the chest or abdomen to remove fluid or tissue for cancer testing.
Thoracotomy: The chest is surgically opened so a surgeon can view signs of disease and remove a tissue sample for biopsy.
Thoracoscapy: A small camera is inserted through an incision between the ribs and surgical instruments are then used to remove a tissue sample.
Asbestos-Caused Lung Cancer
Lung cancer may also be caused by frequent contact with this dangerous product. When lung cancer strikes, cells grow uncontrollably in the lungs, eventually forming a malignant tumor in the air passages that obstructs breathing.
Lung cancer kills more Americans each year than any other type of cancer. In 2007, the number of U.S. deaths from lung cancer was more than 160,000. Lung cancer is also the most common disease related to exposure, but because lung cancer is often caused by other agents, like cigarette smoke, fewer people are aware that exposure can cause or exacerbate lung cancer.
According the American Lung Association, people who work around this dangerous material who do not smoke are five times more likely to develop lung cancer than are people who do not smoke and are not exposed. If a person is exposed to large amounts of the material and also smokes, their chances of contracting lung cancer are greatly increased. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reports that various studies have shown smokers who are exposed are 50 to 84 times more likely to contract lung cancer than are smokers who do not come into contact with large amounts of asbestos.
The type of treatments offered for lung cancer will depend on the extent of the disease, the age and health of the sufferer and the location of the tumor(s). These treatments may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgical removal of all or part of the cancerous tissue and supportive care to relieve discomfort.
Legal Claims for Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer and Other Diseases: Some Roadblocks to Recovery
What are the special problems you and your attorney will face in bringing your claim?
For one, there is the very real risk that if you or a loved one has been diagnosed, time is of the essence; the life expectancy of malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer victims is limited. Your lawyer should waste no time in discussing with the victim possible sources of his or her exposure and learning the health effects on the sufferer’s life. The lawyer will likely take the victim’s deposition (out-of-court testimony) where possible, in case that person will not be able to testify at trial.
Another complication in these cases is the passage of time from exposure to diagnosis. Your California injury lawyer and his or her team of investigators will need to probe into events that occurred long ago, locating the parties involved and taking testimony from witnesses who may now have retired or moved on. Your attorney may need to look for secondary evidence of contamination – perhaps finding out if others you worked with contracted mesothelioma or lung cancer, because the physical evidence that there was contamination in your workplace 30 years ago is now gone.
Finding all the possible sources of liability will be particularly important to you and the lawyer handling your case because so many involved producers have declared bankruptcy, or may do so in the future. A competent and experienced lawyer will work to exhaustively research your case history to locate all the possible responsible parties. If you worked in the shipbuilding industry, for example, your attorney will want to know about all your employers through the years. Then, if one producer has declared bankruptcy, your attorney may be able to help you get compensation from the other responsible parties.
Facts Regarding Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer, and Other Related Diseases
Each year approximately 2,500 people in the United States die from malignant mesothelioma, a relatively rare form of cancer that attacks the cells in the protective sacs (or mesothelium) surrounding certain of the body’s internal organs. Although, like other forms of cancer, the condition might arise for unknown reasons, the overwhelming majority of mesothelioma cases can trace their causes to one thing: the victim’s previous, often prolonged, exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos is the name used for any of six naturally occurring minerals that have long, fibrous crystals. After the minerals are mined and processed, they are usually mixed with a binding compound suited to the planned end product’s ultimate use.
Products and Contamination: Asbestos was for years incorporated into household, construction and industrial products, such as brake shoes, kitchen floor tiles, schoolhouse insulation and cement pipes. Absestos’ resilience and resistance to heat made it a seemingly ideal substance for a number of uses, particularly fire-resistant products. However, unbeknownst to the average consumer or industrial worker, researchers and manufacturers were finding out as early as 1900 that airborne asbestos fibers – encountered during asbestos mining, and during the manufacture, use of or disposal of asbestos-containing products – could harm those who breathed them in or accidentally ingested them by mouth. Because it would eat into their profit margins, the manufacturers buried this information.
Manufacturers’ Silence: As a consequence of the manufacturers’ failure to disclose dangers, many people have unwittingly contracted the condition, often by breathing in microscopic fibers in the workplace. Some have even contracted mesothelioma, lung cancer and other diseases through secondary contact with a family member who is exposed at work and brings it into the home, often on clothing. Still others have ingested the dangerous product through contaminated drinking water or by eating in a contaminated lunchroom.
Demographics: Men are more likely than women to die of asbestos-caused mesothelioma – in 2004, for example, males made up 80.3% of the related deaths. Caucasians are also more likely to die of this disease than are any other ethnic group: 94.8% of those who died in 2004 were white. The explanation for these numbers usually comes down to fact that white men in this country are disproportionately employed in the types of industries where they will work around asbestos. The job categories with the highest mortality rates are plumbers, pipe fitters, steamfitters, and electricians – but elementary school teachers are also high on the list because so many old school buildings have asbestos insulation, piping and flooring. In the 1970s, the federal government began strictly regulating producing industries. Because of this, excess exposure today is primarily related to demolition of buildings or portions of buildings that incorporated these products in their construction materials.
- Cancer Development: Mesothelioma and lung cancer develop slowly, generally over a period of decades. Just a few exposures to high concentrations of asbestos probably will not cause the health problem; it takes years of contact. This exposure usually begins 10-40 years prior to diagnosis. In addition, those who breathe in or otherwise ingest significant amounts of these particles are more likely to contact related illnesses.
Three Types of Asbestos-Caused Malignant Mesothelioma
The person with malignant mesothelioma has a cancerous tumor or tumors somewhere within the structures surrounding the lungs, heart or stomach. Early signs of this ailment often mask themselves as other illnesses, like pneumonia, so diagnosis is difficult.
Because the condition can attack the lungs, the stomach or the heart, the symptoms for each type may differ. The three types are pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, and pericardial mesothelioma.
There is a membrane (mesothelium) lining the chest cavity wall, called the parietal pleura, and another membrane lining the outside of the lungs, called the visceral pleura. Between these membranes there is a small amount of liquid. Together, when healthy, these structures form a movable cushion that allows the lungs to expand and contract during breathing without much friction. When asbestos exposure causes cancer of these membranes, the victim has what is known as pleural mesothelioma. This is the most common type, accounting for about 70% – 80% of all such cases.
Someone with this disease may experience shortness of breath, back, chest or ribcage pain. Excess pleural fluids may build up (referred to as pleural effusion) due to irritation to the pleura from the cancer cells, and this may in turn cause the victim to have trouble breathing. In some cases, the victim of pleural mesothelioma will cough up blood, have swelling in the face and arms, find unusual lumps on the chest and experience fever or night sweats.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is a cancer of the stomach’s and intestines’ lining, usually traceable to asbestos exposure. Of all types, this is the second most common, accounting for about 30% of reported cases. Symptoms include a mass or fluid on the stomach, stomach pain, lumps on the abdomen, nausea, vomiting and weight loss.
This cancer attacks the sac around the heart, and it is the rarest of the malignant mesothelioma types, accounting for only 1% – 5% of all relevant cases. And, in fact, the connection between pericardial mesothelioma and asbestos exposure is less clear than it is with the other two types; many people with pericardial mesothelioma show no significant physical signs of asbestos contamination. Symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness and persistent cough.
Treatment of Malignant Mesothelioma
Treatment of this disease, as with all cancers, depends on the stage to which the cancer has grown. The stages are as follows:
Stage I: The cancer is localized to a small area and has not spread;
Stage II: The cancer is in the mesothelium as well as its adjacent lung, stomach or heart;
State III: The cancer has spread beyond the mesothelium and its adjacent organ to lymph nodes near that organ; and
Stage IV: The cancer has spread beyond the immediate area around the affected mesothelium and its organ to other areas of the body.
By the time the cancer is diagnosed, the average victim’s life expectancy will be only one to one-and-a-half years. Maximum life expectancy usually does not extend beyond five years.
These ailments not curable, and so treatment of malignant mesothelioma is aimed at prolonging life and alleviating the pain and other discomforts associated with the having this type of cancer.
Treatments may include chemotherapy (injection of anti-cancer drugs, usually through a vein, often weekly or every two or three weeks), radiation therapy, surgery to remove malignancies, and supportive care, such as help to alleviate pain, breathing problems and excessive weight loss.
Non-Malignant Asbestos-Caused Diseases
In addition to the above forms of cancer, there are other asbestos-caused diseases that are non-malignant. Signs that someone has contracted benign mesothelioma or asbestosis should be taken seriously. This is not only so that their symptoms can be treated but also because the presence of these diseases may indicate that malignant conditions could develop later on in the victim’s life.
Like similar cancers, this condition is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. It involves a tumor or tumors in the mesothelium surrounding the lungs or in the lining of the stomach; the difference is that the tumors in the case of benign mesothelioma are not cancerous. Still, the mass of the non-cancerous tumors can compress against the lungs, causing pain, coughing and difficulty with breathing.
If the non-cancerous tumors are in the abdomen, they may obstruct normal digestive tract functions, leading to pain, nausea, constipation and weight loss. Diagnosis is made using many of the same tests that are used to diagnose the health issue, such as chest x-rays and biopsies of lung or stomach tissues. Treatment may include surgical removal of the non-cancerous tumor. Pain relief and various methods for easing breathing difficulties may be prescribed.
This is a disease that involves the scarring of lung tissues due to irritation from fibers that were breathed in. No tumors are involved, either malignant or benign. Nevertheless, this is a serious disease of the lungs that between the years 2000 – 2004 contributed to the deaths of a yearly average of 1,450 Americans. Of these, approximately 110 each year are California residents. Most victims worked in mining or industrial industries, lived with people who worked in heavy industries, or lived near certain mines.
Symptoms of asbestosis likely will not appear until at least 10 years after a first exposure to the product. The presence of scar tissue in the victims may cause breathing problems, particularly after exercise or other physical exertion; a cough that produces no mucous; a crackling sound when the victim inhales and exhales; chest pains; and loss of appetite. Some people with asbestosis will have no symptoms while others can be totally debilitated, or die.
There is no cure, so treatment options are limited to preventing progression of the disease and relieving discomfort. Administration of extra oxygen and drainage of excess fluids around the lungs may help those with breathing difficulties. Sufferers are urged to do what they can to prevent catching illnesses of the lungs, such as flu or cold. Victims should also stop smoking, as lung cancer risks for smokers who have had significant exposure are many times higher than for smokers who do not have asbestosis.
Choosing a California Mesothelioma Lawyer to Represent You
Do you or a loved one have, or suspect you have, mesothelioma? Do you have good cause to believe you might develop it in the future? You may have a valid claim for legal recovery, and you should talk to a California attorney with proven track record with similar claims.
The lawyers at The Reeves Law Group are experienced attorneys who have helped thousands of personal injury victims obtain the compensation for their injuries and damages. If you or someone you love has contracted mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, or any other related disease, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney at The Reeves Law Group in California. You may contact our law firm at (800) 644-8000 for a free consultation with an attorney.