The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that 1.3 million people have worked in jobs that may have resulted in asbestos exposure. Although federal regulations require workers who may be exposed to asbestos be provided with special training and protective gear, the risks of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases still remain. Moreover, because the dangers of asbestos did not become evident until the 1970’s and since the symptoms of mesothelioma may not become prevalent for 20 to 50 years after exposure, mesothelioma cases resulting from exposure prior to regulatory measures are diagnosed every day.
In an attempt to provide early detection of asbestos-related diseases, as well as monitor exposure rates for individual employers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to institute a medical surveillance program for all workers who are or will be exposed to asbestos at or above the permissible exposure limit (0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air). The program, which is cost-free for the workers, must include annual physical exams during which case histories are taken, surveys are completed, and pulmonary function tests are administered.
Some employers pay for annual chest x-rays to detect pleural mesothelioma, the most common type of the cancer; however, it is not currently a requirement of the OSHA guidelines for medical surveillance programs. While OSHA acknowledges that the use of chest X-rays “may indicate that an employee has been overexposed to asbestos, increasing his or her risk of developing exposure-related chronic diseases”, the examining physician is given “broad latitude” to prescribe specific tests and may feel that the cost of X-rays is not warranted when the worker is symptom-free.
Physicians familiar with mesothelioma tend to disagree. A chest x-ray is typically the primary source for diagnosing pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs. Though it is often used to rule out a viral or bacterial infection (pneumonia or bronchitis) when a patient presents with troubled breathing, a cough and/or chest pain, symptoms similar to pleural mesothelioma, it can also be used to show changes to the lungs when a patient is asymptomatic. For that reason, a chest X-ray is particularly beneficial to workers known to be exposed to asbestos.
Specifically, a chest X-ray may show pleural thickening, one of the key visual characteristics of pleural mesothelioma, as well as pleural effusion (the build-up of fluid) in and around the lungs. A tumor or mass may be revealed, and the scarring of asbestosis, another asbestos-related disease, may also be apparent. Although is not the definitive diagnostic tool utilized to confirm a case of mesothelioma, and is routinely followed by a MRI, CT and PET scans, it is the first step toward early diagnosis and possibly a longer, better quality of life for the patient.
If you or a family member is suffering the devastating effects of asbestos exposure, we encourage you to contact the Philadelphia mesothelioma lawyers at Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler. Our Philadelphia and New Jersey attorneys focus a substantial part of our law practice on asbestos-related injuries and have the experience and dedication necessary to help protect your rights and achieve justice in your case. Our lawyers will work hard to see that you get the compensation you are entitled to under that law. For a thorough review of the facts of your case, call us today or submit an online contact form.