These days, it is pretty safe to say that most people are aware that asbestos fibers are dangerous, and they can lead to a deadly disease known as mesothelioma. Most people, however, think that mesothelioma is actually lung cancer. While it is true that malignant mesothelioma can occur in the lungs, it is not the same type of cancer we typically associate with years of smoking and refer to as lung cancer. Lung cancer, while often deadly, is much easier to treat than malignant mesothelioma.
A recent news feature article from the Public Slate takes a closer look the different types of mesothelioma and the different stages of the disease. First, it should be noted that the disease is called mesothelioma because it occurs when deadly asbestos fibers are inhaled by a victim and make their way into a protective layer or membrane of tissue known as the mesothelium. While just about every organ in the human body is protected by a mesothelium membrane, malignant mesothelioma most often affects the lungs, the chest and the abdomen.
If the cancer occurs in the lungs it is called malignant pleural mesothelioma, or “MPM” as it is often called by doctors and Boston mesothelioma lawyers who are familiar with the disease. If the cancer occurs in the abdomen, is called malignant peritoneal mesothelioma, and if it occurs in the chest cavity or the heart, it is called malignant pericardial mesothelioma. The reason it typically happens in these three areas (most often in the lungs) is because the fibers must be inhaled or swallowed and become trapped in the mesothelium to form the disease. It is hard for them to find their way to other internal organs.
It should also be noted that the disease is very rare and is nearly always caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. Not only does it hardly ever occur on its own, the fact that doctors can see the fibers of asbestos under microscope as part of biopsy means that asbestos can readily be identified as the cause of the cancer. Two of the other known causes are exposure to a rare form of radiation poisoning and a particular strain of the polio disease which was eradicated in the 1960s.
However, in addition to the various types of mesothelioma, the deadly asbestos fibers can also cause another disease known as asbestosis. Asbestosis occurs when the asbestos fibers are inhaled and damage the lining of the lungs, causing scar tissue to form. This is different than cancer and closer to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is often associated with heavy smoking. Patients with asbestosis will typically be required to take medication and may need an oxygen tank to make sure they are able to breathe. While not deadly in every case like mesothelioma, asbestosis can result in death. Asbestos exposure can also lead to other serious respiratory diseases.
One of the reasons mesothelioma is so deadly is that it often takes between 20 and 50 years for a patient to develop symptoms, and, by the time they do, the disease is already in an advanced state.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.
Understanding Mesothelioma and Its Staging, April 21, 2016, The Public State, By Leigh Haugh
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