Asbestos is a fiber used in insulation materials and other industrial products, particularly in the mid-portion of the 20th century. By the 1970s, it was found to be the cause of many diseases, especially mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. The biggest problem with asbestos is that it breaks down into tiny needle-sharp fibres that are easily inhaled into the lungs. Because they are long and needle-like, asbestos fragments get stuck in the lungs and cause mesothelioma, which has few other causes other than asbestos. Another serious illness caused by exposure to asbestos fibres is asbestosis which is a chronic inflammatory and fibrotic medical condition affecting the lungs. Almost any degree of exposure, inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibres carries with it a risk of contracting an asbestos related disease. Lung cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma compensation claims will be successful if it can be proved that the employer failed to implement a safe system of work thereby placing employees in danger. Our specialist personal injury lawyers deal with asbestosis and mesothelioma compensation claims against negligent employers. If you would like to speak to a mesothelioma lawyer about whether or not you have a viable asbestos related disease compensation claim just complete the contact form, send an email to our offices or call the helpline. Our mesothelioma lawyers offer free legal advice without any further obligation from qualified solicitors who specialise in mesothelioma compensation claims.
In order for a mesothelioma solicitor to succeed, it must be proved that there was fault and blame (negligence) on the part of another person (employer, manufacturer etc). This occurs when there is a breach in duty of care by another person towards you and that breach results in illness. The court will look at all the evidence (factual, circumstantial, medical, including the opinions of your treating doctors and expert witnesses) to determine whether you are entitled to be compensated for having contracted an asbestos related disease.
There are about 250 cases of this illness in Australia every year and it is known that the rate will increase annually and peak in the year 2020. The time between diagnosis and initial occupational exposure to asbestos commonly has been 30 years or more. Early identification and treatment of any cancer can increase an individuals quality of life and survival. If you have been damaged by someone else's negligent conduct, you should seek legal advice from a mesothelioma solicitor who can advise you of your rights, help determine the chances of winning your case and the value of your entitlements. By using our solicitors, you will be accessing the very best lawyerss with extensive experience in all aspects of personal injury law.
This condition is a cancer and it does not show up as a health problem for between 30 years and 50 years after exposure to asbestos fibres. Most people who suffer from it have been directly involved in the manufacture or use of asbestos and its products however there is a significant and alarming percentage of victims who have had no obvious exposure. Asbestos fibres are almost always present in the atmosphere but usually in low level concentrations that do not seem to present a health risk. Whilst just a short period of exposure can cause this condition it is most likely to affect those who have had significant exposure often on numerous occasions over a long period of time. The condition appears more often in men than in women and is more prevalent in the elderly. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, chest pain, weight loss, abdominal pain, bowel obstruction, anaemia and fever.
When considering your condition a doctor will initially review your medical records after a detailed physical examination and will arrange for X-rays, CT scans and an MRI scan. Diagnosis of an asbestos related disease is ultimately carried out by use of a biopsy which involves the removal of a tissue sample from the affected area and subsequent examination under a microscope.
The condition is a rare form of cancer in which cancerous cells are found in the mesothelium which is a membrane (protective sac) that covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body. Workers who develop this illness are those who have inhaled asbestos particles and about 75 percent of all cases occur in people who report a history of exposure at work. Those most at risk have included people who work in asbestos mines and mills, producers of asbestos products and workers in the heating and construction industries. Most victims are entitled to make a mesothelioma claim for compensation often against a former employer for failing to protect their employees healthy in accordance with the law.
The risk of developing most asbestos-related disease increases with heavier exposure to asbestos and longer exposure time however it does only take a brief exposure to develop which causes cells to become abnormal and divide out of control. As the cells continue to divide, the cancer may spread to nearby tissues and organs. Initially there is shortness of breath and chest pain due to fluid build-up in the pleura (pleural mesothelioma) and there may also be weight loss, abdominal pain, bowel obstruction, anaemia and fever. This particular illness occurs more often in men than in women and risk increases with age, but the disease can appear at any age.
Symptoms of disease may not appear until 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. Claims for personal injury must normally be started within three years of the event giving rise to the injury however in the case of a mesothelioma claim the three year period does not start to run until the condition has been confirmed by a medical practitioner.
Diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease begins with a review of the patient's medical history, including any history of asbestos exposure. A doctor will examine you physically and order chest x-rays or abdomen x-rays and lung function tests. A CT (or CAT) scan or an MRI may also be useful. A biopsy is needed to confirm a diagnosis of an asbestos related disease. In a biopsy, a sample of tissue is removed for examination by a pathologist.
The amount of the award in a mesothelioma compensation claim will depend on the extent of your injuries and disabilities and is comprised of different categories as follows:
General damages cover items which are mostly estimated and cannot be calculated precisely and includes compensation for pain and suffering; loss of amenities of life; loss of life expectancy.
Income Loss - includes past and future income and loss of pension entitlements.
Gratuitous domestic care provided to you by family members or friends as a result of your illness, injuries and disabilities. This includes household chores that you were previously able to do, but are no longer able to carry-out because of your disabilities and symptoms.
Out-of-pocket expenses - includes medical treatment expenses; pharmaceutical expenses; equipment aids; rehabilitation services; cost of travelling to and from medical appointments to receive medical treatment.
There are time limits in regards to settling personal injury claims and in general terms a mesothelima compensation solicitor must either settle the claim or proceedings must have been issued in a court of law within three years of the event that caused the injury however there are a number of exceptions to this general rule and the court does have a discretion to extend time limits. In the case of claims for an asbestos related disease which does not show itself for decades there is a 'latency period' of up to 50 years. In these cases a mesothelioma compensation solicitor can rely on the 'date of knowledge' and the three year time limit does not start to run until the condition has been confirmed by a medical practitioner.
The most common disease caused by asbestos is called pleural mesothelioma, which involves a cancer of the lining surface of the lung. It is uncommon to have signs or symptoms in early disease so most of the time, the disease is discovered in its later stages. The main symptoms include problems breathing, pain in the chest wall, weight loss, night sweats, fever, malaise and cough. It is difficult to diagnose mesothelioma in its early phases because it mimics less severe illnesses, such as bronchitis, pneumonia and allergies affecting the lungs.
The doctor can detect mesothelioma using a plain film chest x-ray, which can show a thickening of the chest wall or the internal pleural surfaces. A CT scan can show a mesothelioma slightly better and an MRI scan, which uses magnetism and radio waves along with a computer, can really define the outlines of the mesothelioma. These tests should be considered whenever there is a history of asbestos exposure and symptoms of the disease.
A biopsy of the suspected tissue can be done with an open lung biopsy or with a bronchoscopic biopsy, depending on where the cancer is located. CT guided pleural biopsy can also be done using a needle that samples the cancer without actually opening the chest wall, especially if the cancer is on the periphery of the lungs. A thoracoscopy involves using a flexible tube inserted into the chest wall and doing a biopsy using tiny tools and a small camera at the end of the flexible tube.
A related test used for the biopsy of mesotheliomas is a mediastinoscopy, which involves a video camera inserted into the mediastinum of the lungs behind the breast bone. Cancers located behind the breastbone can be biopsied at that time. Lymph nodes located in the mediastinum can be looked at and sampled for evidence of metastatic cancer to lymph nodes.
Those with asbestos exposure were most likely carpenters, factory workers in the insulation industry, shipyard workers, Navy veterans, and those working in the automotive, shipbuilding and railroad industry. Family members exposed to asbestos by being exposed to the clothing, hair or skin of those who work in those industries are at a higher risk of getting mesothelioma.
There is a latency period from the time of exposure to asbestos and the development of pleural mesothelioma. The latency period can be as short as 5-10 years but is normally around 40 years or more. This means you may not necessarily compare your symptoms of mesothelioma to exposure you had decades ago to asbestos but the relationship is really there.
Another type of asbestos-related cancer is called peritoneal mesothelioma. This is mesothelioma that has attached itself to the peritoneum in the abdominal cavity. It is also due to exposure to asbestos; however, it is not as common as pleural mesothelioma.
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include swelling of the abdomen due to an increase in the fluid of the peritoneal cavity, pain in the abdomen, an abdominal mass, and weight loss. You can also get bowel obstruction, problems in blood clotting and anemia. Fever is common and is unrelated to having an infection.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose because it mimics other diseases and is a relatively rare type of cancer. Peritoneal mesothelioma has no other cause besides asbestosis so you need to think 'asbestos exposure' if you develop peritoneal mesothelioma. It is due to ingestion of the needle-like asbestos fibers in the workplace or exposure to those who worked in the above industries that cause pleural mesothelioma.
There are actually two types of peritoneal mesothelioma. One is benign and is called benign multicystic peritoneal mesothelioma. While it grows, it does not metastasize and is not considered a cancer. The second is the cancerous or malignant form of mesothelioma. Either type of mesothelioma can be diagnosed using a CT scan or MRI scan of the abdomen, followed by a laparoscopy to biopsy the tissue to see what type of tumor it is.
Mesothelioma can be staged and the stage of mesothelioma determines the survival rate. There are several staging protocols, including the TNM system and the Butchart staging system. The TNM looks at the size of the tumor (T), the number of lymph nodes involved (N) and the presence of metastases (M). In the Butchart system, stage I involves local cancer on one side of the lung; stage II represents involvement of the chest wall, esophagus, heart or pleura on both sides of the lungs. Lymph nodes may also be involved. Stage III cancer means the cancer has invaded the abdomen through involvement of the diaphragm; stage IV involves metastasis through the blood to distant organs.
Mesothelioma is rarely diagnosed in stage I and the average survival rate after diagnosis of mesothelioma is about 4-18 months. Some mesothelioma patients, however, have been diagnosed with the disease and have survived longer than ten years. The greater the stage of mesothelioma, the worse is the prognosis. Treatment depends on the stage of the mesothelioma as well.
The treatment of mesothelioma includes surgical resection of whatever tumor can be seen. This might include involved lymph nodes. This is true of pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. Chemotherapy can be instilled directly into the intraperitoneal cavity in peritoneal mesothelioma or can be generalized in pleural mesothelioma. External radiation therapy is used at the site of the removal of cancer so that all the cancer cells can be killed off. There are certain medications called 'cytoreductive' agents that kill off only cancer cells and that work well in the management of mesothelioma.
Exposure to asbestos fibres is known to cause a number of asbestos related diseases some of which are inevitably fatal. Evidence of the connection between asbestos and these diseases comes from epidemiologic studies as well as numerous studies of workers exposed to asbestos in a variety of occupational settings.
Mesothelioma treatment depends on the location of the cancer, the stage of the disease (whether the cancer has spread to other organs) and the patient's age. Standard treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Sometimes a combination of these methods is necessary. When surgery is required, the doctor may remove part of the lining of the chest or abdomen and some of the tissue around it. For cancer of the pleura a lung may be removed. Sometimes part of the diaphragm, the muscle below the lungs that helps with breathing, is also removed. Surgery can provide relief from symptoms and sometimes the bulk of the tumour can be removed. Surgery is often used in combination with other treatments, but its value is very limited if the tumour is near any vital organs.
Radiation therapy (radiotherapy) involves the use of radiation to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy affects the cancer cells only in the treated area. This is the least invasive method of mesothelioma treatment. Usually, it is not a primary treatment but is used in conjunction with other therapies such as surgical resection and chemotherapy. It is generally used to reduce the size of the symptomatic tumour and help relieve symptoms like pain and shortness of breath.
Chemotherapy is the use of potent anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Often, it is offered as an additional therapy alongside radical surgery and/or in combination with radiation therapy or immunotherapy, particularly when the cancer has spread beyond an operable area. Most drugs used to treat this condition are given by an intravenous injection or intrapleurally (in the pleural cavity itself).
Doctors specialising in mesothelioma treatment frequently treat a patient with a combination of therapies. Due to the relative lack of effectiveness of using one type of treatment only, the multimodal combination of treatments holds more promise for survival of malignant cancer patients. If there is fluid build-up in the chest or abdomen, the doctor may use a needle or a thin tube to drain fluid that has built up. This may provide some pain relief.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that usually affects the lungs; however, abdominal mesothelioma exists in more rare cases. It is considered the most severe asbestos-related illness and is most common in people who have occupational exposure to asbestos building products.
Diagnosing mesothelioma can be difficult because it mimics other diseases, particularly other diseases of the lung. If the diagnosis ends up being mesothelioma, there is no specific cure. Doctors can lengthen the life of the patient by doing surgery, radiation and chemotherapy as treatments. Specific treatment regimens will be discussed later.
About 75 percent of all cases of mesothelioma are called �pleural mesothelioma� because they arise in the pleural tissue or �lining� of the lungs. The tissue linings of the abdominal cavity or around the heart (in pericardial mesothelioma) are the other two locations where doctors might find mesothelioma cancer. There are three types of mesothelioma: epithelial mesothelioma, which comprises 50-70 percent of all cases, sarcomatoid mesothelioma and biphasic mesothelioma.
The major risk factor for mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos fibers are microscopic, needle-like fibres that have been used for decades because it conducts heart poorly and is resistance to being burned or melted. It was used in naval shipyards to insulate ships, in construction as insulation and in many other industrial areas. Unfortunately, millions of people were exposed to this substance prior to medical authorities finding out the link between mesothelioma and asbestos exposure.
Smoking in those who also are exposed to asbestos greatly increases the risk of getting mesothelioma by a factor of 50-90 percent. There are less common risk factors including radiation exposure, such as exposure to thorium dioxide. There is a substance called zeolite found in the soil in Turkey that is found in the soil and has properties that are a lot like asbestos.
Cells from the simian virus 40 alone have been found in mesothelioma cells in humans, suggesting that the virus may play a role in who gets mesothelioma and who doesn�t. There is also a naturally-occurring mineral called erionite that is deposited in the soil in certain locations. Doctors have found that people living near erionite deposits are at a much greater risk of getting mesothelioma. In addition, exposure to carbon nanotubes in research seems to be linked to mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a cancer that occurs in the mesothelium, a thin membrane encompassing the body�s internal organs and cavities. Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibres that are inhaled through the mouth and nose may eventually become embedded in the lining of the lungs, causing harmful inflammation of the pleura and resulting in mesothelioma or asbestosis (scar tissue formation in the lungs). It has also been found that swallowing asbestos fibres could contribute to a form of the malignancy originating in the abdomen known as peritoneal mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma generally results from occupational asbestos exposure but there are instances of environmental exposure that can also cause the disease. Oftentimes a family member can be affected indirectly by second hand exposure from an asbestos worker�s soiled work clothes.
Asbestos was an effective insulation material. It was used liberally in commercial and industrial products until being regulated. Occupational exposure was common among workers who encountered these products in many industries including shipbuilding, power plants, and other industrial settings.
So how does asbestos exposure cause the cancerous disease of mesothelioma? Asbestos fibres are narrow, needle-like and durable. The reason it is so successful as an insulating device is also the reason why it gets stuck in the lungs and is unable to get out. The asbestos fibres travel further into the lungs and get trapped in the periphery, setting up an inflammation that, over 30-60 years can result in the inflammation leading to cancer. Those individuals who have worked with asbestos dust in the past have a three hundred times increased risk of getting mesothelioma when compared to the average person.
Mesothelioma was first identified as a type of cancer in the late 1700s; however, it wasn�t until the mid-20th century that it was studied better by doctors and when the suspicion of the origin of mesothelioma first came to light. This was the time when there was more industry and more construction; asbestos was used in a number of industries and the regulations around their use were less strict than they are today. Nevertheless, because it can take 30-60 years between exposure to asbestos and the formation of mesothelioma, people who worked in industries with asbestos many years ago can still get the cancer today.
Mesothelioma is a relatively rare type of cancer. The incidence of mesothelioma was much greater between 1970 and 1984, which was believed to coincide with the era after asbestos was used commonly. Practically all industries used asbestos at one point but it was particularly used in the post WWII years in Navy shipyards. Many more men are afflicted with mesothelioma, largely because they have had an increased exposure to industrial asbestos and most men with the disease are over the age of 60. There have been instances of mesothelioma in young people and women, believed to be caused by men bringing asbestos dust into the home.
Mesothelioma is a complex disease that can be difficult to diagnose because it mimics other lung diseases. The main symptoms of the disease include pleural effusions or peritoneal effusions (fluid in body areas), chronic cough, blood in the sputum and chest pain, which can be misdiagnosed as emphysema, chronic bronchitis or acute bronchitis.
Doctors can diagnose mesothelioma by doing a diagnostic biopsy in a surgical fashion, doing CT or MRI imaging studies and, on occasion, doing a regular chest x-ray. The biopsy is what gives the doctor the true diagnosis of mesothelioma as opposed to other types of lung cancer.
Doctors use a combination of surgical techniques to remove the bulk of the tumor, followed by a combination of chemotherapeutic agents and radiation therapy to remove as many cells as possible. It is not a cancer that is considered curable but there are therapies that can substantially prolong the life of the patient. Early-stage patients can have nearly perfect resection of the cancer with surgery alone; however, it is difficult to find a patient with early stage disease. In some cases, a portion of the lung can be resected to get rid of more tumor and surrounding tissue.
The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here