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How Does Mesothelioma Develop in the Lungs?

Mesothelioma Lungs

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that attacks the membranes that line organs and body cavities. According to WebMD, an estimated three out of four mesothelioma cases involve the lungs and chest cavity versus anywhere else in the body. The most common form of mesothelioma is called pleural mesothelioma because it affects the pleura, which is the membrane that surrounds the lung.

Mesothelioma is most often caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos. Asbestos was widely used in products and materials from the late 1800s through the 1980s because of its heat-resistant properties. With a relatively low cost, it was utilized in manufacturing and building and construction materials.

When asbestos is disturbed, it gives off invisible fibers. Unsuspecting people easily inhale these fibers, and their microscopic size allows them to penetrate deep into lung tissue. Over prolonged exposure, the asbestos fibers embedded in lung tissue begin to irritate the pleura. When that occurs, the pleura becomes inflamed, and there is an abnormal growth of mesothelial cells, leading to cancer.

Mesothelioma is found mainly on the lung and other chest surfaces in small, individual tumors that eventually grow larger and together. This growth process is generally slow; mesothelioma can be diagnosed up to 40 years after exposure.

When the mass is large enough, it presses on nerves, causing noticeable pain. In addition, tumor nodules and fluid accumulate in the space between the lungs and chest wall, compressing the lungs. At this point, the patient will almost always begin feeling symptoms. Mesothelioma is often diagnosed in late stages when the five-year survival rate is no more than 10 percent.

What are the Stages of Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is diagnosed according to one of four stages:

  • Stage 1: Localized to one side or both sides of the mesothelial lining.
  • Stage 2: Advanced from the lining to the lungs and diaphragm.
  • Stage 3: Spread to nearby lymph nodes, organs, and tissues.
  • Stage 4: Widespread, affecting distant organs throughout the body.

Since a diagnosis often comes at a later stage, treatment options are limited.

Who is Most Likely to Develop Mesothelioma?

Between two to 10 percent of people who are exposed to asbestos will develop mesothelioma. Most of these work in industries where prolonged exposure to materials and products with asbestos is common. These workers have a higher-than-average risk for mesothelioma:

  • Construction workers
  • Demolition workers
  • Disaster relief workers
  • Roofers, flooring layers, home builders, and remodelers
  • Firefighters
  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Welders

This does not mean that a person working in one of the above industries will get mesothelioma. It will depend on whether the materials they are consistently exposed to contain asbestos fibers. While the widespread use of asbestos is no longer legal, the United States has not banned the use of asbestos completely.

People who often work in old buildings or homes should use extra protection while on the job. Asbestos was routinely used in roofing and flooring materials, to cover heating and furnace ducts, and was used in many other building-related applications.

What are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

The surface of the lungs and the pleura surrounding are the most common sites for mesothelioma. Although it can spread to lymph nodes and inside the lung itself, it generally remains outside the lungs.

Due to its location, mesothelioma generally causes various respiratory symptoms, including:

  • Severe shortness of breath.
  • Pain in the chest and back that does not go away.
  • Persistent, painful dry cough and coughing spells.
  • Chest lumps that can be felt underneath the skin.
  • Pain when taking a deep breath.
  • Whistling or wheezing sound when breathing.
  • Constant symptoms of a chest cold.
  • Nausea.
  • Weight loss.
  • Fatigue.

How is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

If you have symptoms like those listed above, see a doctor immediately. They will perform a physical exam that includes your history of asbestos exposure. The following diagnostic tests are also standard:

  • CT scan of the chest.
  • X-rays of the chest and lungs. It is not uncommon for mesothelioma to be discovered after an X-ray was issued for a different reason.
  • MRI or PET scans to check if the cancer has spread to other tissues or organs.
  • Biopsy of the tumors.

How is Mesothelioma Treated?

Mesothelioma is challenging to treat because the cancer spreads throughout healthy tissue. However, those diagnosed in earlier stages may be helped by:

  • Surgery: Patients diagnosed with mesothelioma early may be candidates for extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) surgery. This surgery removes the cancerous lung and other tissues affected by the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation: When EPP surgery is performed, chemotherapy and radiation may follow as part of the treatment plant. Even with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, the prognosis is poor. The average five-year survivability rate is about 10 to 20 percent.

Is Mesothelioma Preventable?

Avoiding exposure to asbestos is one way to ensure that you will not develop mesothelioma. Otherwise, people whose jobs put them in regular contact with burning or eroding asbestos should use personal protective equipment at all times. This includes filtration masks, goggles or face shields, oxygen tanks, protective clothing, shoe coverings, and gloves.

Since the time between exposure to asbestos and mesothelioma symptoms is so long, a person may think they will not get the disease despite being exposed. It is always a good idea for them to have pre-emptive check-ups to be sure.

What is the Difference Between Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer?

There are many differences between the two diseases:

  • Lung cancer usually develops inside the lung, while mesothelioma develops outside the lung.
  • Mesothelioma can also grow in the lining of the heart, testicles, and abdominal organs. Lung cancer does not.
  • Mesothelioma spreads through healthy tissue, making it more difficult to discern. Lung cancer generally presents as individual tumors with more defined boundaries.
  • Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the United States, while mesothelioma is relatively rare.
  • Mesothelioma is almost always caused by asbestos exposure, while lung cancer is commonly caused by smoking or secondhand smoke.
  • A mesothelioma diagnosis can come decades after the exposure. The latency period is generally much less for lung cancer.

What Should I Do if I Suspect I Have Mesothelioma?

If you have symptoms of mesothelioma, seek medical attention right away. While the disease cannot be cured, treatment options may prolong life and quality of life.

Another step is to contact a mesothelioma lawyer. This is because many workers were unknowingly exposed to asbestos, or their employers did not adequately protect them from asbestos. When mesothelioma results from someone else’s negligence, you may be able to be compensated for costs incurred, including medical bills and lost wages. You will need a lawyer to help with insurance company negotiations or litigation in court. A consultation with a lawyer is an excellent first step after a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Our Mesothelioma Lawyers in Philadelphia Help Those Needing Legal Help After a Diagnosis

A mesothelioma diagnosis can be both financially and emotionally devastating, but you may have legal options. Let our Philadelphia mesothelioma lawyers at Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler help ease some of your worries. Contact us online or call us at 215-569-4000 for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Delaware County, Chester County, and Philadelphia County.