Mesothelioma - Medical Malpractice Lawyers

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Mesothelioma - Medical Malpractice

Mesothelioma is an uncommon cancer of the lining of the lung. It is almost exclusively the result of exposure to the dust of asbestos. Many get their exposure during their work environment but there are some family members who get mesothelioma from coming in contact with the dust of their family members who bring it home on their clothing, skin and hair. There are about two to three thousand new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed per year; approximately 80 percent are directly affiliated with a workplace. It takes about 20 to 50 years from the time of exposure to the time of getting mesothelioma so that the average age at onset is around 65 years of age. It is not an easy cancer to have with a five year survival rate that approaches 10 percent.

The various signs and symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include pain in the chest at the level of the cancer near the rib cage, coughing that is often painful, shortness of breath, weight loss that can't be explained and lumps of cancerous tissue that extrude through to the skin at the site of the tumour.

Asbestos is a mineral found naturally in the environment and is the main cause of mesothelioma. The asbestos fibres are strong and heat-resistant so that they are good insulators and good in brake manufacturing, shingle making, flooring substances and other things used in manufacturing. It can be found as a solid foam or in small needle-like fibres. It is the needle-like fibres that get stuck in the lungs after they are inhaled. Granulomas form around the fibres and eventually cancerous lesions form where the fibres are present in the lung. It is difficult to clear asbestos products from the lungs just by coughing so they just remain there for the life of the individual. The mechanism of action that takes asbestos fibres to cancer (mesothelioma) isn't completely known. Not everyone exposed to asbestos gets mesothelioma so the issue is complex.

Besides exposure to asbestos, other risk factors to getting mesothelioma include living with someone who has asbestos exposure, exposure to a certain polio vaccination given between 1955 and 1963 that contained a monkey virus that seems to predispose people to getting mesothelioma and radiation exposure from x-rays or from exposure to thorium dioxide, which is a radioactive substance that can cause cancer. There are hereditary forms of mesothelioma as well although doctors do not understand how this occurs.

Complications of having mesothelioma include difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, chest pain, swelling of the neck if the superior vena cava is blocked, pain in the back and spinal area and fluid in the chest cavity, a condition known as pleural effusion.

The diagnosis of mesothelioma is a chest x-ray, CT scan or MRI scan of the lungs, which can show the mass of the lining of the lungs. Doctors then go on to get a biopsy of the lung cancer tissue, using a bronchoscope or perhaps using a stereotactic lung biopsy. Thoroscopy uses a camera to elucidate the cancer and a needle or other sharp device is used to take a sampling of the tissue. Fine needle aspiration can be done to get mesothelioma tissue. An open lung biopsy can be done in cases where the doctors are also planning on removing the tumour at the time of the open lung biopsy.

Mesothelioma is staged using various medical techniques. Stage I mesothelioma is localized to the lining of the lung. Stage II cancer involves the lining of the lung plus the diaphragm or a portion of lung tissue. Stage III cancer involves nearby lymph nodes and distal areas of the lung tissue. Stage IV mesothelioma involves cancer that has spread to other body areas including distant lymph nodes and non-lung tissue.

The treatment of mesothelioma is complex. You may want everything done so you survive the disease with as great a chance of survival. Other people choose to remain comfortable only and do not want aggressive treatment. If you have stage IV disease, you may wish to remain comfortable only. This might include removing fluid from the lungs, cough suppression and pain control. You might also want everything done to save your life. This might increase your chances of survival or might not do anything at all. In such cases, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy can shrink the cancer and perhaps can get rid of the cancer altogether.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here