Asbestos is a fibrous material that can cause chronic (and sometimes terminal) illnesses when its fibers are inhaled and become trapped in the lungs. Asbestos was once commonly used as a fire retardant in buildings and homes. As a result of public pressure, homes and buildings are no longer constructed with asbestos. However, asbestos is still used in many products.
Unfortunately, long-term exposure to asbestos has been linked to mesothelioma, a rare and lethal form of cancer that invades the linings of the lungs and other organs. In this article, we’ll discuss asbestos and mesothelioma, the risk factors associated with asbestos exposure, mesothelioma’s symptoms, treatment options, and other important information.
Asbestos Exposure: Risk Factors
Most people have been (or will be) exposed to asbestos at some point during their lives, but usually not to the extent or frequency that it causes illness. Most homes and office buildings constructed before the 1980s contain at least some asbestos that may lead to minimal exposure. However, those who are exposed to the material on a regular basis for an extended period of time are at the greatest risk.
For example, asbestos miners and workers involved in the manufacture of asbestos products have the highest rates of asbestos-related illness. Others who may have experienced long-term asbestos exposure include construction workers, shipyard workers, drywall removers, firefighters, demolition workers, automobile mechanics, and military personnel.
Mesothelioma: An Example
While mesothelioma is still relatively rare, approximately 3,000 new cases of the disease are reported each year in the United States. The vast majority of mesothelioma cases can be traced back to asbestos exposure. In the typical case, several decades have passed since the patient was exposed to asbestos. As such, potential claimants often don’t make the connection between their illness and past asbestos exposure.
To illustrate this concept, we’ll use the hypothetical case of Richard. Richard worked in the construction industry in the late 1960s and 1970s installing asbestos insulation in homes, schools, and other buildings. Since the risks of exposure were not understood at the time, he probably did not wear protective gear and may have brought the dangerous fibers home with him.
In 1979, Richard decided to embark on a career change. He went back to school and earned a degree in business management, worked as a business manager, and retired after about 20 years. He hadn’t been feeling well for some time, so he went to his doctor and eventually was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Richard is surprised since it’s been more than 30 years since he worked with asbestos. His doctor explains that she’s seen cases of mesothelioma in patients whose exposure to asbestos occurred up to fifty years ago. In fact, the typical case of mesothelioma occurs 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure.
If you’ve been exposed to asbestos, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma’s symptoms, which are similar to those of other pulmonary illnesses, may include:
- Chest pain
- Breathing difficulties
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal bloating and lumps
Unfortunately, most mesothelioma patients aren’t diagnosed until their illness has reached an advanced stage. Most doctors will recommend palliative therapy, which can help relieve the patient’s pain and make life more comfortable. This may consist of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
Speak with an Attorney about Your Mesothelioma and Asbestos Claims
Asbestos and mesothelioma-related illnesses can take a long time to develop — sometimes up to 50 years after exposure — with symptoms that are often very similar to other illnesses. If you have suffered from shortness of breath, were exposed to asbestos, or have reason to believe you may be at risk, you owe it to yourself to explore your legal options. Contact an attorney with experience working on asbestosis and mesothelioma cases to learn how they can help you protect your rights.
Learn more on our asbestos law legal answers page.