In this special Q&A with Jerry Neil Paul of the Paul Law Firm, Organized Labor explored mesothelioma, asbestosis, and what actions a worker suffering from these diseases can take.

What is mesothelioma?
A cancerous tumor originating along the lining of the lungs. More commonly pleural mesothelioma along the pleura and lining.  Another type is known as pericardial mesothelioma between the lining and the heart. The next most common is known as peritoneal mesothelioma along the lining of the lungs to the stomach. Rarely it can be a Testicular Mesothelioma. 

Symptoms may start off as a fluid buildup in the lungs that may be mistaken at first as a bronchitis or pneumonia.  With the peritoneal type you can develop fluid that appears to look like a person gaining weight in the stomach area.  The average life span after diagnosis will depend how far along the cancer has had time to develop. While the life span after diagnosis is disappointing, the length and quality of life left has expanded for some more than others whom have had some success with new treatment options. Fortunately, research is making a positive difference!

How does a doctor identify whether this is mesothelioma? 
A pulmonary specialist usually can get the right tests done to identify your illness. This starts with your medical history and an examination. Be sure to let the doctor know about any asbestos exposure history. The doctor will be sending any sputum or fluid from the lungs to the pathology lab to further identify the culprit. Also, they will want different views of your lungs from front, back and oblique angles along with CT Scans. These will be read by the radiologist to help determine what you have. If mesothelioma is suspected due to your asbestos exposure history and symptoms a Board Certified B Reader radiologist specializing in identifying asbestos related markers in your lungs would be helpful. 

After mesothelioma is suspected, your doctor will want the pathology department to make a definite determination that this is mesothelioma. The least invasive approach is a needle biopsy guided by a CT scan to get a piece of the tissue that is suspect for cancer. This tissue will then go to one of the specialists labs that understand the necessary tests and stains to perform with the tissue to identify mesothelioma.

What causes this insidious cancer?
Asbestos exposure in your working environment caused most of this cancer.

The tradesmen cannot see the microscopic asbestos fibers floating through the air, which is then inhaled into the lungs. The asbestos fiber hooks and lodges in the lungs. The body tries to rid itself of the fibers by sending anti-bodies to attack it. This fiber is indestructible, so the body's anti-bodies die trying to surround the fiber, encapsulating it, which causes scarring in the lungs. These become the markers for asbestos-related disease, causing symptoms such as breathing impairment and for some mesothelioma or other types of lung cancer.

The building trades have been subjected to a large share of those contracting mesothelioma through significant direct and indirect exposures from many years ago. It takes at least 15 to 40 years from exposure to develop into cancer.  In the United States around three thousand folks are diagnosed each year. Sometimes, the spouse washing the work clothes can also contract this cancer through exposure to the asbestos fibers. Every trade group has had members contract mesothelioma. Everything used to be made with asbestos. It had a cheap cost with heat resistant properties. There were healthier substitutes, although itchy to the skin, that legislative laws required to be used starting first in homes and buildings in 1972. It took longer to get the asbestos out of transite pipe and additionally later out of brakes. It is still locked up in most industrial plants, buildings and homes pre-1980 that have not had abatement removing the toxic materials. From industrial plants, refineries, commercial buildings, schools, hospitals, homes and literally almost every structure built had contained asbestos materials. If these are not removed but sealed so the asbestos does not flake or shake loose into the air that may help minimize the exposures. 

All those in the building trades worked with asbestos products packed with insulation pre-1980. Everything from insulation on boilers and heaters, cement, plaster, asbestos-covered electrical cable, water transite piping, gaskets and roofing, just to mention a few, were asbestos laden. Talk to some of your mentors who worked pre-1980 if you want to hear their stories.

What is asbestosis?
Many of you will likely have asbestos exposure markers in your lungs that are identified by certain X-rays or CT scans along with your normal yearly medical examinations. These markers by themselves are more often benign. The markers in your lungs can be measured each year to calculate the progression. The progression as the markers multiply in the lower lungs with other symptoms may become asbestosis, a non-malignant asbestos related disease. Confirming asbestosis requires a combination of medical diagnosis from a clinical exam, chest X-rays and a detailed asbestos exposure history. There are many more tradesmen with this asbestos caused disease without cancer whose symptoms appear more like bronchitis with coughing up sputum. It progresses over time impairing your breathing.

Can you have more than one disease? 
It is not unusual to have overlapping health issues. If you smoke, you’re more likely to have lung damage in the upper lungs with markers called blebs. Also, smokers with asbestos exposure are many more times likely to contract other lung cancers as squamous cell, small cell and adeno-carcinoma. Squamous cell is most directly related to cigarette smoking. Other lung cancers can have more than one primary cause like asbestos plus cigarette smoking.

Legal representation is helpful to those afflicted with asbestos caused mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis to help them receive just compensation. If any questions please call our office toll free at 855-885-3425, or visit us at www.thepaullawfirm.com.

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