Although mesothelioma is rare, up to 10% of workers exposed to asbestos will develop it
The number of new mesothelioma diagnoses is four times greater than 40 years ago. The reason is that asbestos exposure results in mesothelioma 20 to 50 years after the person first comes in contact with the toxic fibers. Asbestos use ceases in the 1980s. Depending on the route of exposure, which can be inhalation or ingestion, a person can develop:
- pleural mesothelioma (on the outer lining of the lungs)
- peritoneal mesothelioma (on the outer lining of the abdomen)
- pericardial mesothelioma (on the outer lining of the heart)
- testicular mesothelioma (on the outer lining of the testicles)
However, approximately 80% of patients develop pleural mesothelioma, the most common type. Veterans would often be exposed to tremendous amounts of asbestos while working or serving on military ships, which would have over 300 different asbestos products aboard. If you served in the military between 1935 and 1975, you might have been exposed to asbestos from at least one source.
Since 1959, when the association between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma was found, a series of reliable medical studies supporting this connection have been emerging throughout the world.
While chrysotile is the most common asbestos type, exposure to all six asbestos types can result in mesothelioma. The length of asbestos fibers has no influence on mesothelioma risk. Nevertheless, the risk of developing mesothelioma was found to increase with the number of asbestos fibers inhaled and the duration of exposure.
The following occupations entail the highest risk of mesothelioma, as they involved using, handling, or working with asbestos during the last century:
Similar to other diseases caused by asbestos exposure, it usually takes several decades for mesothelioma to occur. The reason for this long latency period pertains to the way cancer develops once asbestos fibers become lodged in the outer lining of the lungs. Although they are very irritating to tissue, asbestos fibers produce inflammation and scarring gradually. Over time, these symptoms may give way to malignant tumors. After the onset, cancer tends to progress very rapidly, and while mesothelioma advances, it also becomes more and more resistant to treatment.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of people receive their diagnosis when mesothelioma is too advanced to respond to treatment. Roughly 55% of patients survive longer than 6 months, whereas barely 35% of them live for more than one year. It is important to know that early diagnosis can prolong survival considerably and also lead to a more favorable prognosis. For this reason, if you have a history of asbestos exposure, we advise you to undergo a screening test annually, which – in the regrettable event that you develop mesothelioma – will help your physician detect it on time.
Misdiagnosis, a frequent occurrence when it comes to mesothelioma patients
Not only is mesothelioma often asymptomatic, but when symptoms are present, they can easily be mistaken for the signs of non-malignant respiratory conditions such as pulmonary fibrosis, diffuse pleural thickening, or asbestosis.
It is not uncommon for mesothelioma to be misdiagnosed as lung cancer either since both diseases affect the lungs and closely resemble each other in terms of symptoms.
The rate of mesothelioma misdiagnosis is very alarming. Up to 32% of people who suffer from mesothelioma are told they have another disease before receiving the correct diagnosis. For this reason, if you know you have a history of asbestos exposure, it is crucial to seek a second and even a third opinion if you experience the following symptoms:
- a persisting dry cough
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- difficulty swallowing
- unexplained weight loss
- night sweats
Misdiagnosis can have terrible consequences for your health. Since each disease requires a particular therapeutic approach, receiving treatment for the wrong illness when you actually have mesothelioma will impact your prognosis dramatically. Additionally, an incorrect diagnosis will also prevent you from claiming the amount of financial compensation you are truly eligible for, as asbestos trust funds pay out money depending primarily on your diagnosis. Mesothelioma is the worst disease asbestos exposure is responsible for, and people who have it typically receive the largest sum of money as compensation.