The first reported case of mesothelioma happened in 1767, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). French pathologist Joseph Lieutaud, who was the personal physician of King Louis XVI, first reported his findings of tumors in the tissue surrounding the lungs (pleura) in “Précis de médecine pratique,” a series of four books he published between 1760 and 1776.
Mesothelioma is cancer affecting the tissue covering many of our organs, called the mesothelium. The disease often results from exposure to asbestos—a link first noticed by the Roman historian and doctor Pliny the Elder in the 1st century AD but not medically established until the 1960s.
It was not until the 1920s that Drs. Ernest S. Du Bray and F.B. Rosson first used the term “primary mesothelioma of the pleura” to describe pleural mesothelioma tumors. It was not until 1960 that South African researchers definitively linked mesothelioma to asbestos exposure.
Asbestos a Primary Risk Factor for Mesothelioma
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), 70 to 80 percent of people who receive a mesothelioma diagnosis suffered exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos is a fibrous, heat-resistant mineral found naturally in the earth. Starting around 2500 BC, humans have mined asbestos for its fireproof properties to use in products like armor and pottery. Modern usages include roofing shingles, insulation, flooring tiles, brake pads, and more.
The Mayo Clinic describes how, when asbestos fibers break up, they turn into dust that can be inhaled, causing irritation in the lungs or stomach that can develop into mesothelioma tumors.
Other risk factors for mesothelioma include smoking, radiation exposure, and in rare cases, an inherited genetic mutation.
How Exposure to Asbestos Happens
North American industries began using asbestos in the late 1800s, and usage became more widespread from the 1930s to the 1960s. Its use in the United States mostly stopped after 1989, when the Environmental Protection Agency banned all new uses of the substance, though the first cases of mesothelioma linked to asbestos already had been known about for years.
Medical professionals and government agencies now recognize asbestos as a carcinogenic substance in humans. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 125 million people worldwide still work with asbestos. Occupations at higher risk for asbestos exposure include:
- Shipyard workers
- Asbestos miners
- People who work in demolition and remodeling old buildings
- Brake mechanics
People who live with those who work around asbestos may also be more at risk for developing mesothelioma. People who work around asbestos should wear protective gear and take care not to carry the substance home on their bodies or clothing. If you are unsure whether you are at risk of asbestos exposure on the job, talk to your employer.
Another way people may suffer asbestos exposure is through regular use of cosmetics products containing talc. Because talc deposits naturally occur near asbestos, cross-contamination is possible.
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Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma
The signs and symptoms of mesothelioma differ depending on the affected part of the body. Pleural mesothelioma begins in the tissue around the lungs. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, coughing, weight loss, and the presence of lumps under the skin on the chest. As the disease advances, it may also lead to a buildup of fluid in the chest and pain caused by the resulting pressure.
Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs in the abdomen. Symptoms include nausea, weight loss, and pain and swelling in the belly. It can take years, even decades, before asbestos exposure leads to mesothelioma. Once symptoms appear, you might mistake them for signs of other common illnesses. Talk to your doctor if symptoms persist or you have a known history of asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma Diagnosis and Treatment
A mesothelioma diagnosis often occurs when a patient goes to the doctor for chest pain and shortness of breath. Your doctor will do a physical examination and feel for the presence of lumps. If this exam warrants further testing, there are various imaging tests your doctor may order to check for changes in the lungs.
Testing may include a chest X-ray, CT scan, PET scan, or MRI. If you have a history of asbestos exposure, your doctor may want to conduct imaging regularly to screen for early signs of the disease.
Blood tests cannot diagnose mesothelioma, but your doctor can use blood samples to get an idea of your overall health. Your doctor can check for high levels of certain substances in the blood that may indicate mesothelioma development. Your doctor may also want a tissue or fluid biopsy, which is the best method to determine if cancer is present.
There currently is no cure for mesothelioma. Your doctor may order surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, drug therapy, and a combination of approaches to treat symptoms and slow the spread of mesothelioma, but the five-year relative survival rate for all mesothelioma stages is just 10%.
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How a Lawyer Can Help
If you or a loved one has mesothelioma, you may qualify for compensation for your illness. A lawyer can help you seek awards to cover your medical expenses and more. Contact Pintas & Mullins Law Firm at (800) 307-3113 for a risk-free consultation with a member of our team.