Asbestos was widely used throughout the UK for various purposes, particularly in construction, up until the end of the 20th century when all types of asbestos where banned in the UK. Unfortunately, asbestos remains in many building constructed before 2000 and it can have a serious health impact on anyone exposed to the substance.
Mesothelioma – a type of cancer – is one of the most common asbestos-related illnesses. It can take years to develop after exposure to asbestos, meaning many sufferers and their doctors may not immediately recognise the condition or its cause.
In this article, we explain what mesothelioma is, how asbestos causes the disease and what symptoms to look out for.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that usually starts in the tissue surrounding the lungs (the pleura) but can also occur in the tissue around the digestive organs (the peritoneum). Around 2,700 people a year in the UK are diagnosed with mesothelioma and the disease has a very high mortality rate, with around a 50% 1-year survival rate and only 5-10% of patients surviving for 5 years or more.
The overwhelming majority of mesothelioma cases are due to asbestos exposure, with 90% of male sufferers and 80% of female sufferers having been exposed to asbestos. The disease is also much more common in men, with approximately 5 times more men diagnosed with mesothelioma than women. This is due to the fact that far more men have historically worked in construction and other industries where they were likely to come into contact with asbestos.
How asbestos causes mesothelioma
Asbestos is made up of tiny fibres that, when inhaled, can pass into the lungs and other body tissue and stay there for years. These fibres cannot be removed and the body is incapable of breaking them down. In fact, the body’s own immune response is what ultimately leads to mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
When asbestos fibres lodge in the tissue around your lungs or elsewhere, your immune system releases chemicals to try to break down the foreign object. These chemicals don’t work on the asbestos fibres, but do damage the surrounding tissue. Because the fibres are not broken down, the body continues to release these chemicals, doing progressively more damage to the surrounding tissue.
Over time, this constant damage to the surrounding tissue leads to genetic mutations that can cause the cells to become cancerous, resulting in mesothelioma developing.
Symptoms of mesothelioma
There are often few or no symptoms in the early stages of mesothelioma, which is one of the reasons the disease is often diagnosed relatively late. In the later stages of the disease, when the cancerous tissue has begun to grow, the following symptoms may be experienced:
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent coughing
- A hoarse voice
- Trouble swallowing
- Loss of appetite
- Losing weight
- High temperature and sweating
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Losing weight
- Constipation or diarrhoea
What to do if you are diagnosed with mesothelioma
A diagnosis of mesothelioma is understandably very scary. As well as being life threatening, it can also causes serious problems for your family, including to their financial stability. Many people diagnosed with mesothelioma choose to pursue financial compensation from the person or business they were working for when they were exposed to asbestos.
If that employer is found to have failed in their duty to protect you from the dangers of asbestos exposure, you or your family are likely to be able to claim a significant amount in compensation. This can replace your lost income and give your family financial security.
If you believe you may be entitled to mesothelioma compensation, it is highly advisable to consult a specialist work-related injury lawyer with experience in asbestos-related diseases. This will give you the best possible chance of making a successful claim.