What Is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare and often fatal form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can settle in the tissue of the lungs or other organs. Over time, these fibers damage the tissue, potentially leading to malignant (cancerous) mesothelioma.
There are four types of mesothelioma cancer, named for the organs that are affected:
The most common type of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining of the lungs (pleura). Pleural mesothelioma accounts for 3 out of 4 mesothelioma cases. Common symptoms include chest pain or tightness, chronic coughing, and shortness of breath. Pleural mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, lung cancer, or pneumonia.
The second-most common type of mesothelioma cancer is peritoneal mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). Around 10-15% of mesothelioma patients have peritoneal mesothelioma. Common symptoms include abdominal pain or swelling, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss. Peritoneal mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or ovarian cancer.
Pericardial mesothelioma is far less common than pleural or peritoneal, making up 0.7% of mesothelioma cases. It occurs in the lining of the heart (pericardium). Common symptoms include a heart murmur, heart palpitations (arrhythmia), or an irregular heartbeat. Pericardial mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as congestive heart failure or coronary artery disease.
Like pericardial mesothelioma, testicular mesothelioma is quite rare, affecting less than 1% of mesothelioma patients. It occurs in the lining of the testes. Common symptoms include the inflammation or thickening of the testicular lining, and testicular swelling (known as a hydrocele). Testicular mesothelioma is sometimes misdiagnosed as a hernia, testicular cyst, or testicular infection.
In addition to where it originates, mesothelioma cancer can differ depending on the type of cells that compose it:
- Epithelioid tumor cells grow more slowly and respond better to treatment, leading to a better outlook for patients. Around 70% of mesothelioma cases are epithelioid.
- Sarcomatoid tumor cells grow more quickly and don’t respond as well to treatment, potentially leading to a more pessimistic outlook for patients. Roughly 7-15% of mesothelioma cases are sarcomatoid.
- Biphasic (mixed) tumors are made up of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. As a result, their growth rates and responsiveness to treatment vary.
What Causes Mesothelioma?
The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure, a naturally-occurring mineral known to be extremely durable and resistant to heat and fire. Asbestos has been used to make adhesives, aircraft and auto parts, appliances, cement, insulation, ships, and textiles, among countless other products.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can become embedded in the tissue lining organs like the lungs, abdomen, heart, or testicles. Over time, the fibers irritate this healthy tissue and can cause the formation of malignant (cancerous) mesothelioma tumors.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partially banned some asbestos-containing products in 1989. However, asbestos is still not completely banned in the U.S., despite the risks. Even more surprising, many asbestos product manufacturers knew of the dangers of asbestos in the 1940s but hid these risks until the 1980s to protect their profits. As a result, people who develop mesothelioma may be owed money from the companies that made the asbestos products they were exposed to.
Who Is at Risk for Mesothelioma?
Asbestos was used widely throughout the 20th century in countless industrial and commercial products. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, so anyone exposed could potentially develop mesothelioma. That said, workers in certain industries are at greater risk of developing the disease.
These high-risk occupations and fields include:
- Aircraft mechanics
- Auto mechanics
- Drywall installers
- Factory workers
- Shipyard workers
- U.S. military veterans, particularly U.S. Navy
Unfortunately, it’s also possible to develop mesothelioma from secondhand exposure (also known as take-home exposure). For example, a shipyard worker who comes home with asbestos fibers in his clothes may unwittingly cause his spouse or children to inhale these fibers, putting them at risk. Both occupational and take-home asbestos exposure can qualify a mesothelioma patient for compensation.
What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma symptoms will vary depending on which type of mesothelioma a patient has (pleural, peritoneal, pericardial, or testicular). They may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Chest pain
- Chest tightness
- Heart palpitations
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Testicular swelling
- Weight loss
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, consult with a physician immediately — especially if you have been exposed to asbestos.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Mesothelioma?
Diagnosing mesothelioma cancer can be challenging because it’s so rare. Pre-biopsy, doctors often misdiagnose mesothelioma for more common diseases with similar symptoms, such as COPD, IBS, a hernia, or lung cancer.
Following a physical exam, there are three main ways that doctors diagnose mesothelioma:
Imaging tests can help a doctor find cancerous masses or tumors, fluid buildup, or the thickening of the lining of the organs. These tests include:
- Computerized tomography (CT) scans
- Echocardiograms (ultrasounds of the heart)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scans
In addition to imaging tests, blood tests can help diagnose mesothelioma because the disease increases the amount of certain substances in the blood. These tests include:
- SMRP test, the most common test, detects soluble mesothelin-related peptides (SMRPs)
- N-ERC test, which detects N-ERC (mesothelin)
- Osteopontin test, which detects osteopontin, a protein that can indicate cancer (though not the type of cancer)
- MPF test, which detects megakaryocyte potentiating factor (MPF), a protein that can indicate mesothelioma
While imaging tests and blood tests can be crucial tools in diagnosing mesothelioma, the only way to definitively determine that a patient has the disease is by taking a biopsy. A biopsy is a tissue or fluid sample taken from the affected area (for example, the lungs or abdomen). The two most common types of mesothelioma biopsies are:
- Fine needle biopsy, in which a long, skinny needle is used to extract cells from an organ such as the lungs or heart
- Thoracoscopy, in which doctors make a small incision in the chest and use video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) to collect a sample
Is Malignant Mesothelioma Curable?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for mesothelioma. But mesothelioma patients can receive effective treatment, improve their prognosis (medical outlook), and live for many years after their diagnosis, especially if they are relatively young and catch the disease early.
Treatment options for mesothelioma include:
These treatments can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is why so many mesothelioma patients pursue compensation to cover the costs.
The factors that affect a mesothelioma cancer patient’s prognosis include:
- Mesothelioma stage (how far the disease has progressed)
- Type of mesothelioma
A younger, healthier mesothelioma patient may be able to withstand more aggressive treatment, improving their outlook — while an older patient who is more vulnerable may not be able to undergo surgery, for example.
Can You Sue for Mesothelioma Cancer?
Mesothelioma patients and their loved ones may be able to file a lawsuit against the company or companies responsible for their asbestos exposure. If the lawsuit is successful, they can recover compensation to pay for:
- Lost wages/loss of earning capacity
- Medical expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Funeral costs (in cases of wrongful death)
Most of these cases are settled before they go to court, but claimants can also secure compensation through a favorable trial verdict.
Most mesothelioma lawsuits are settled before they go to trial. When this happens, the defendant (asbestos company) is released of any further liability but must pay the plaintiff (mesothelioma patient) an agreed-upon sum of money. The average mesothelioma settlement is $1-1.4 million, but you may receive more or less depending on the details of your case.
A judge or jury determines the verdict in a mesothelioma trial, but there is no guarantee that the plaintiff will win compensation. Trials can take years to resolve, which is part of the reason so many mesothelioma lawsuits are settled out of court.
Noteworthy verdicts and settlements for mesothelioma include:
- $250 million verdict: The largest verdict in the history of asbestos litigation was awarded to Indiana steelworker Roby Whittington.
- $34.1 million verdict: A jury awarded $34 million to Missouri roofing worker James Hutcheson, who was exposed to asbestos at an Illinois refinery and later developed an asbestos-related cancer.
- $10.5 million settlement: This settlement was reached with several companies contributing to asbestos exposure at refineries and foundries that caused a pipefitter’s mesothelioma.
Other Paths to Justice
Mesothelioma patients may also be able to recover money in the following ways:
- Asbestos trust funds are special trust funds set up by an asbestos company to compensate mesothelioma victims – an estimated $30 billion have been set aside in these funds, and some people can recover compensation from multiple funds
- Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits for U.S. military veterans can include health care, disability compensation, and special monthly compensation (SMC)
Who Is the Best Mesothelioma Attorney?
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, you should contact a lawyer who may be able to help you recover compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and other damages. Some things to consider when hiring a mesothelioma attorney are:
- Do they offer free consultations?
- Do they work on a contingency fee basis (meaning clients pay nothing unless their case is successful)?
- How many years of experience do they have handling mesothelioma cases?
- Do they have a history of success with mesothelioma claims?
LawFirm.com can connect you with a mesothelioma lawyer with the experience and resources you need to secure your family’s financial future. The attorneys in our network offer free consultations and charge no out-of-pocket fees. They only get paid if your case is successful.
Contact us today so we can put you in touch with one of the top mesothelioma lawyers in the country.