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Frequently Asked Questions about Mesothelioma

What is mesothelioma? Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure.   The disease affects the mesothelium, or the lining around the body’s internal organs. It usually appears in the lungs, but has been known to attack other organs as well. There is no known cure for mesothelioma, but treatments are available to help minimize symptoms.

Are there different types of mesothelioma? Yes, there a few different types of mesothelioma that are classified by where the disease originates. Pleural mesothelioma, which is the most common mesothelioma, develops in the lining of the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma originates in the abdomen lining and often spreads to the liver, spleen and bowel. Less common types of mesothelioma such as pericardial and testicular/uterine serosa occur in the heart and reproductive organs, respectively.

What causes mesothelioma? There is only one known cause of mesothelioma—exposure to asbestos.

What is asbestos? Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring and fibrous mineral that is flexible, possesses high tensile strength, is heat resistant, resistant to chemical degradation, and can be woven into fabrics. Its versatile and unique characteristics made asbestos a popular building material in the mid-20th century and was commonly used in construction, manufacturing, and within the military.

What are the symptoms of mesothelioma? Depending on the type of mesothelioma (or location the disease originated), the symptoms may vary, but can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chronic coughing
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive sweating
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Fever

Are there stages of mesothelioma? Yes. There are four stages of mesothelioma that indicate the severity and development of the disease.

  • Stage 1 - at the earliest stage, mesothelioma has begun to develop and there are few noticeable symptoms. The cancer is confined to a specific area and has not metastasized. Few mesothelioma cases are identified at this stage.
  • Stage 2 - still considered an early stage of the disease, it is characterized by limited spreading of cancer cells to nearby organs and tissues. Typically, symptoms become more noticeable in this stage.
  • Stage 3 - the disease is considered advanced, as it has spread to tissues, organs, and possibly to lymph nodes. Stage 3 is the most frequently diagnosed stage of mesothelioma.
  • Stage 4 – this is the most advanced stage of mesothelioma and is usually considered terminal. At this stage, the cancer has spread beyond the point of origin and the prognosis is very poor. The life expectancy of a patient in Stage 4 is typically a year or less.

How is mesothelioma diagnosed? Patients are often diagnosed after visiting a doctor due to symptoms they are experiencing. After a review of medical history and a physical examination, there are several different tests that can be performed to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. The tests may include one or more of the following:

  • Chest X-rays
  • CT Scan
  • Echocardiogram
  • MRI
  • PET scan
  • Blood tests
  • Tissue and fluid tests

Is there a latency period between the time of asbestos exposure and the development of the disease? Yes. Symptoms of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses typically do not appear for 20-50 years after exposure.

What is the life expectancy for a mesothelioma patient? Depending on the stage of diagnosis, life expectancy is typically one to two years. Age, location of the mesothelioma and cell type also play a role in determining life expectancy. Every case is different. It is important for patients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure to contact an asbestos injury attorney.

Can people who are exposed indirectly to asbestos develop mesothelioma? Bystander exposures have affected family members in the same household as those who have worked around high levels of asbestos. The tiny fibers brought home on the workers’ clothing, tools, shoes, and hair, are released into the air and inhaled by others in the same household causing mesothelioma.

What occupations are most at risk for mesothelioma? Shipbuilders, painters, welders, plumbers, and workers in factories such as steel mills, chemical and power plants, and paper mills were most affected prior to federal regulations. Today, many construction workers and emergency responders are still at risk when older buildings containing asbestos are remodeled, demolished or collapse.

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