Asbestos Related Diseases
Asbestos has been used in some of our civilization’s most stunning architectural marvels, as well as our common dwelling spaces. It’s been utilized in our skyscrapers to our warships to our homes and vehicles.
Yet the legacy of asbestos will be the havoc it wreaked on the bodies of those nearest to it.
Asbestos-related diseases stemming from occupational exposure to asbestos claims 107,000 lives and disable 1.5 people annually, according to the World Health Organization. There are thousands more deaths every year reportedly linked to non-occupational exposure to asbestos.
Researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the incidence rate of asbestos-related disease is climbing, as the typical latency period between the first exposure and clinical diagnosis is between 20 and 30 years. Those diseases include:
- Lung Cancer
- Laryngeal / Larynx Cancer
- Ovarian Cancer
At The Law Offices of AIG, our mesothelioma lawyers know that while victims of these diseases are often entitled to compensation, obtaining it can sometimes be a significant challenge. These cases are highly technical and complex, often hinging on records that are decades-old. Extensive investigation and preparation by a skilled legal team is an imperative.
We recognize that no amount of monetary recovery is going to buy our clients a medical miracle. But we do hope it will offer them some peace in holding responsible parties accountable and in knowing their family’s future will be one that is financially sound.
How Asbestos-Related Diseases Occur
Asbestos-related diseases occur when a person is exposed to asbestos fibers, either breathed in or swallowed.
Asbestos fibers are chemically inert, which means they do not:
- Undergo significant reactions with most chemicals
But these properties that made asbestos so desirable in so many products also make it extremely hazardous to humans.
No amount of asbestos is considered “safe,” but most humans are exposed to very small amounts of naturally-occurring asbestos in the air, water and soil. However, the biggest danger occurs almost exclusively where the fibers are utilized in an industrial context. Large quantities of asbestos have been used to construct so many buildings and some materials we use daily. Workers are especially at high risk, as are their immediate family members.
Since the 1940s, the National Cancer Institute estimates there have been millions of Americans exposed to asbestos at work, in their home and within their communities.
Although smoking cigarettes is known to exacerbate the risk and symptoms of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions, our asbestos injury lawyers know companies that perpetuated asbestos exposure may still be held accountable.
Detecting Asbestos-Related Disease
The NCI urges those who think they may have been exposed to asbestos, whether on-the-job or via some family contact to consult with their physician if they experience:
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent cough
- Bloody cough
- Tightening or pain in the chest
- Trouble swallowing
- Swelling of face or neck
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Anemia or fatigue
Often, a chest x-ray can help identify early signs of asbestos exposure, though it cannot detect the actual asbestos fibers, which are not visible to the naked eye.
Mesothelioma (pronounced me-zo-thee-lee-O-muh) is an aggressive and terminal form of cancer that develops in the mesothelium, which is a protective membrane that lines many of the body’s internal organs.
As the Mayo Clinic reports, mesothelioma is a deadly disease for which there is no cure. There are treatments available that may prolong one’s life or make them more comfortable, but there is no benign form of mesothelioma and none will result in a cure.
Most mesothelioma patients live between six months to 2 years after diagnosis. However, patients are living longer with early diagnoses and advances in treatment.
Exposure to asbestos is the sole cause of mesothelioma. The fibers attach to cells, and over time scar the tissue and cause cancer. There are two basic forms:
- Pleural mesothelioma. This is a form of mesothelioma that affects the lining of the lungs. This is the most common form of mesothelioma.
- Peritoneal mesothelioma. This rarer form of mesothelioma affects the lining of tissue in the abdomen, primarily of the stomach.
There is also an extremely rare form known as pericardial mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the heart. However, it is believed there are less than 50 cases every year in the U.S.
These cancers – and their cause – went undiagnosed for years. Pathologists working independently in the 1940s and 1950s began to identify links between workers in asbestos mines and deadly cancer, later determined to be mesothelioma.
In 1965, the New England Journal of Medicine identified a conclusive link between exposure to asbestos and mesothelioma. But asbestos continued to be widely used in the U.S. through the 1970s. Asbestos mining and manufacturing firms were privately conducting their own studies, and we now know they had evidence of its dangers and its causal link to mesothelioma. However, that information was largely concealed from the public.
An estimated 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the U.S. annually, most with a first-exposure dating at least two decades earlier, with some as many as five decades earlier.
Asbestosis, sometimes referred to as “pulmonary fibrosis, is a type of chronic lung disease that is caused by breathing in asbestos fibers. As with mesothelioma, most times asbestosis is not diagnosed until years after exposure, and there is no cure. However, the condition is not necessarily considered terminal, though it may devolve into a more serious lung cancer and could coincide with mesothelioma.
It was also listed by the CDC as the main cause of death in more than 20,000 instances between 1999 and 2013, or about 1,400 annually. That doesn’t include cases where asbestosis was ruled a contributing cause of death.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that just as with mesothelioma, the cause of asbestosis is inhalation of or exposure to asbestos fibers.
Signs and symptoms of asbestosis, according to the American Lung Association, include:
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent dry cough
- Chest pain
- Loss of weight and/ or appetite
- Dry, crackling sound in the lungs while breathing in
- Wider/ rounder fingertips and toes (sometimes known as clubbing)
Lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure is one of the rarer types of lung cancer, but is still estimated to cause about 4,800 deaths annually.
To ascertain whether lung cancer is asbestos-related, and not caused by some other factor, doctors developed the “Helsinki Criteria” in the late 1990s. These factors are:
- Lung cancer developed at least 10 years after initial asbestos exposure AND
- Diagnosis of asbestosis OR
- Higher than normal asbestos fibers found in lung tissue OR
- Higher than normal exposure to asbestos (25 fibers per milliliter of air per year).
Other Asbestos-Related Diseases
Other diseases have been linked to asbestos too. The possibility of asbestos playing a causal role in ovarian, larynx or other cancers should not be overlooked.
In 2006, a government panel for the National Institute of Medicine concluded that large-scale studies show a “causal relationship” between exposure to asbestos and cancer of the larynx, which is the part of the throat that contains the vocal cords.
Meanwhile, a 2011 study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Preventionanalyzed 16 previous studies and datasets from 1950 to 2008. The researchers held that women with ovarian cancer had increased levels of asbestos exposure, but opined further research was needed.