Asbestos was once heralded as a miraculous material. Light, strong, and versatile; its insulating, soundproofing, heat- and fire-resistant properties made it a popular choice for a multitude of applications. It was widely used in heavy industry, including shipbuilding, factories, power stations, and construction. Asbestos-containing products also made their way into the home, not only as construction materials, but as clothes irons, hairdressers, and toasters.

Although identified as a potential health hazard by the 1920s, it was not until the latter half of the 20th century that serious consideration was given to the after-effects of asbestos exposure. By that time, an increasing number of cases of asbestos-related illnesses, including asbestosis and mesothelioma, had been recorded. Researchers found a causal relationship between the material and tissue damage, and anticipated that a serious health crisis would result.

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer which affects the outer lining of organs; most cases are found in the lungs, but the disease can also target the stomach or the heart.

Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss are the common symptoms of mesothelioma, irrespective of which organs are involved. In mesothelioma of the lungs, specific symptoms that can develop are:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent coughing
  • Fever, particularly at night
  • Fatigue

Likewise, mesothelioma of the stomach can cause:

  • Stomach pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation

If a person is at high risk of developing mesothelioma, and any of the above symptoms are present, it is important to speak with a doctor as soon as possible.

What causes mesothelioma?

The overwhelming majority of mesothelioma cases are caused by irritation and scarring to organ tissue, as a direct result of inadvertent inhalation of asbestos. The outer lining of the lungs, or any other affected organ, can then go on to develop mutations, cancerous cells, or tumors. Asbestosis, a related chronic lung disease, can also progress to mesothelioma.

How is mesothelioma treated?

Unfortunately, most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed at an advanced stage, as the disease can take decades to develop. Symptoms tend to appear only once it mesothelioma has progressed to a late. Surgical options, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy are considered in cases that are diagnosed at an earlier stage, but the majority of treatments are palliative, rather than curative.

How expensive is the treatment for mesothelioma?

The average cost of surgical intervention is almost $40,000. Initial treatment with chemotherapy will be approximately $7,000, with an 8-week course costing $30,000. Radiotherapy carries an average expense of $2,000 per month to the patient. In advanced cases where palliative care is recommended, costly alternative therapies may not be covered by medical insurance.

Can I pursue a compensation claim?

Patients who were exposed to asbestos in the workplace, and are subsequently diagnosed with mesothelioma, are often able to successfully claim for compensation from previous employers. Average settlements are in the region of $1.2 million, and in cases that go to a full trial, awards are often upwards of $2 million.

Where can I find support?

There are specialized organizations that can help you, or a loved one, navigate the next steps after mesothelioma diagnosis. Visit www.mesotheliomahelp.org/mesothelioma for more information.