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What is Mesothelioma? Should I Hire a Mesothelioma Lawyer?

Updated on May 27, 2011

What is Mesothelioma? Should I Hire a Mesothelioma Lawyer?

What is Mesothelioma?

If you ask most people about the cancer called mesothelioma, you will probably get a blank stare or a response, “Meso … what?” But if you ask someone who has worked with asbestos about mesothelioma, they will probably be able to tell you more than you want to hear about this deadly disease.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in which malignant or cancerous cells are found in the mesothelium. That’s the protective sac that covers most of your internal organs including your lungs, your heart and your abdomen. Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked in some job where they inhaled asbestos particles.

Facts about mesothelioma

About 3,000 to 4,000 new cases are reported each year in the U.S. and more than 10,000 are reported worldwide.

Mesothelioma typically has a latency period of 20 to 50 years. That means you can carry the disease around in your body for much of your life without knowing it.

Although it is rare in comparison to other types of cancer, mesothelioma still remains a serious threat today.

 Three times more men than women develop the disease.

 Mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure.

I am old enough to have viewed actual commercials like the one you will see in the video below. At that time we, the viewers, believed that vinyl asbestos flooring (from Armstrong) was the best thing since sliced bread. We had no clue concerning the danger of this deadly dust.


Armstrong Vinyl Asbestos Floors - Who Knew?

Facts about Asbestos

Asbestos is a group of minerals that occur naturally as masses of strong, flexible fibers that can be separated into thin threads and woven.

Asbestos was used on a regular basis in old houses, commercial buildings, hospitals and schools as a means of insulation.

Asbestos has been widely used in many industrial products, including cement, brake linings, roof shingles, flooring products (think vinyl floors), textiles, and insulation.

When tiny asbestos particles float in the air during a manufacturing process, they may be inhaled or swallowed, and this can cause serious health problems.

In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos exposure increases the risk of lung cancer, asbestosis (a chronic, non-cancerous lung ailment), and other cancers of the larynx and kidney.

Mesothelioma cancer as a by-product of asbestos in the workplace has produced numerous lawsuits affecting companies who have used asbestos in their manufacturing processes. More on that later.

Facts about Risk

People who worked in industries that made widespread use of asbestos are at high risk for developing mesothelioma. Occupations include shipyard workers, insulators, construction and cement-processing workers, welders, plumbers, electricians, steamfitters, pipefitters, boilermakers, railroad workers, chemical plant workers, power plant workers, miners, demolition workers, and auto mechanics.

People who smoke and are exposed to asbestos are more likely to develop mesothelioma than individuals who do not smoke.

Individuals who live with people who work with asbestos are also at high risk for developing mesothelioma through secondary exposure.

Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos will develop an asbestos-related disease but long-term exposure does increase the possibility.

 Many mesothelioma patients are military veterans due to exposure experienced while serving in the armed forces.

 Even relatively short-term exposure to large amounts of asbestos can cause mesothelioma, as in the case of emergency workers following the World Trade Center attacks.

Early detection of the cancer can greatly improve a patient's prognosis since more treatment options are available in the early stages of development. Unfortunately, mesothelioma is characterized by having a long latency period, which means that the average age at which symptoms usually begin to appear is around 60 years old.

Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen
Admiral Zumwalt
Admiral Zumwalt
Merlin Olsen
Merlin Olsen

Celebrities have not been spared from mesothelioma.

Do you remember the rugged actor, Steve McQueen? He portrayed strong anti-hero characters in a number of powerful movies including “The Blob.” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Bullitt,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” and “The Great Escape.”

He died as result of contracting pleural (in the lungs) mesothelioma. It is believed he was exposed to asbestos while he was in the Marines, and also because of the flame-retardant suits containing asbestos that he wore while racing cars and motorcycles – his passionate hobby.

When his doctors diagnosed him with mesothelioma in 1979 (he was only 49 at the time), he was advised there was no treatment or cure. He want to Mexico for alternative treatments that did not help and after surgery in 1980 to remove a tumor, he died from a heart attack.

McQueen’s death was particularly notable not only because of his celebrity status, but because that status brought mesothelioma to the attention of the mainstream media and the average American.

Footnote: It's ironic but McQueen made a number of television commercials advertising Marlboro and Viceroy cigarettes. When he died the media attributed it to lung cancer. Lung cancer is cancer of the lung; mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelium, the sac encasing the lung.

Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt. Jr. served as the United States Chief of Naval Operations for nearly 30 years. During his administration, he fought for a number of issues, including protecting Navy men and women from dangerous environmental substances.

His son died from cancer at the age of 42. Zumwalt believed his son’s cancer was due to exposure to Agent Orange during his service in Vietnam—a substance the Admiral had given the command to use.

Admiral Zumwalt was exposed to asbestos numerous times during his career, and was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma at age 78 after he experienced unusual shortness of breath. He died less than 6 months later. Many familiar with Zumwalt’s efforts to protect service men and women from environmental exposure to hazardous substances are angered by the irony of his death from mesothelioma.

Merlin Olsen, a pro football player with the Los Angeles Rams for his entire 15-year career and elected to the Pro Bowl in 14 of those seasons, has mesothelioma. In 2009 he filed lawsuits against several companies he had worked for including NBC Studios, 2oth Century Fox, Universal, Sherwin Williams and others.

In his lawsuit, Olsen claimed these various companies were involved in working with asbestos in one form or another, causing him to be exposed. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy.        Postscript: Merlin Olsen died in March 2010.

Treatments for Mesothelioma

Different types of treatments are available for patients with malignant mesothelioma. The standard treatments below are currently being used. Other options are being tested in clinical trials. A clinical trial is a research study conducted by doctors and offered to patients with mesothelioma

When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the current treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Note: some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not yet started treatment.

Three types of treatment are currently available: surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy., Even when the physician removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation  therapy  after surgery to kill any cancer cells that remain. Treatment given after surgery to increase the chances of a cure is called adjuvant therapy.



Mesothelioma Lawyers and Class Action Lawsuits

Mesothelioma seems to be a hot topic among lawyers these days. I have watched television programs recently that were interrupted by commercials asking, “Do you or someone you know suffer from mesothelioma?” And I have read about some very large class action lawsuits being filed. Mesothelioma lawyers are seeking structured settlements of varying amounts, all due to damages caused by their clients’ exposure to asbestos.

Most mesothelioma lawyers will work on a contingency basis – they only receive their fee if a settlement is reached, and their fees are subtracted from the settlement.

U.S. Steel has been named in several class action asbestos lawsuits. Workers in the steel industry frequently faced danger from burns, and it is ironic that one of the asbestos dangers came from the gloves, aprons and hoods that were designed specifically to protect steelworkers. Unfortunately, when these articles became ripped or worn, asbestos fibers – the deadly dust – were often released as a result.

Countrymark Cooperative LLP produces gasoline and diesel fuels. Employees working in their refineries suffered from asbestos exposure. Again, protective asbestos clothing that was worn as well as asbestos insulation were the primary sources of asbestos poisoning, as was the case at BP-Amoco and Whiting Petroleuim Corp.

In the state of Indiana alone, thirteen job sites located in Columbus, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Gary, Indianapolis, Lafayette, South Bend and Terre Haute are known for having exposed employees to asbestos. This does not include the on-going problems regularly encountered in construction-related fields, particularly the demolition and renovation of older buildings still containing acoustic tiles, asbestos cement and/or flooring, or any of the hundreds of other asbestos building products manufactured and marketed over the years.

The first lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers were filed in 1929. Since then, many lawsuits have been filed against asbestos manufacturers and employers for failing to implement safety measures after the links between asbestos, asbestosis, and mesothelioma became known. The liability resulting from the sheer number of lawsuits and people affected has reached billions of dollars. The amounts and method of allocating compensation have been the source of many court cases, reaching up to the United States Supreme Court, and government attempts at resolution of existing and future cases. However, to date, the US Congress has not stepped in and there are no federal laws governing asbestos compensation.

If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma and know the source of your infection, you should contact a mesothelioma attorney. Exposure to asbestos is the most common cause of mesothelioma. Some lawyers will offer a free consultation before you make a decision to hire them. An experienced mesothelioma lawyer will be able to tell you whether you can file mesothelioma claims.

How to choose Mesothelioma Lawyers

Mesothelioma lawyers must have proven experience working with mesothelioma cases. They must employ sufficient staff to deal with your case. They must be able to explain to you in an easy-to-understand way the process of the law as regards your case, the expected time involved, and any fees that may be required. They must demonstrate their dedication by being available to answer questions and concerns.

General Procedures in a Mesothelioma Case

1. Obtain your physician’s diagnosis, treatment plan, and cost.

2. Your mesothelioma lawyer will then investigate the source of your exposure to asbestos and mesothelioma.

3. Your lawyer will file a lawsuit to claim damages from the party/parties responsible for your asbestos contamination and subsequent mesothelioma.

4. Your lawyer will request a deposition from you in which you will provide information on your medical condition and the manner in which you were exposed to asbestos.

5. Your mesothelioma lawyer will negotiate for a settlement or the case may go to trial.

If you suffer from mesothelioma, don’t give up hope. Clinical trials by research physicians are now ongoing that utilize new and alternative therapies including new regimens, new techniques and promising new drugs.

© Copyright BJ Rakow 2010, 2011. All rights reserved.

Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So"


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    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 8 years ago from south Florida

      Wow, Gus, what an amazing and interesting career life you've led. That provides the fodder for hubs on a gazillion subjects. Lucky guy!

      And how fortunate that gardener didn't lower the angle of his shotgun. Lucky guy!

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 8 years ago from USA

      Hi Doc - That is good of you to have such a compassionate hope for me. I have most of the aches and pains attendant to my advanced youth. I started out in medical things in 1948 and retired in 2007. Most of the time I was involved in radiology, nuclear medicine, clinical laboratory, bone densitometry, computerization, tobacco smoke studies, thyroid function measurement, serum lipid transport, a patent here and a patent there, some printing and publishing, editing, writing, a little weaponry, piloting, thievery (of bosses), this and that, and coffee breaks (got a medal in those). Gotta tell you, too, that when we were kids we used to row our 5-buck leaky rowboat over to Tommy Manville's huge garden and rob it of tomatoes for out lunch... he was an heir to a big asbestos business fortune. Quite a mansion and grounds. It was called "Bon Repos" and was in New Rochelle, NY. We loved to taunt his Italian gardner. the guy would chase us off by firing his shotgun in the air.

      Gus :-)

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 8 years ago from south Florida

      @Gus the Redneck

      Thanks for the information, Gus. I hope that the reason you seem to be so well versed in its manifestation on x-rays is NOT due to knowing someone close to you who suffers from this deadly disease.

      @Green Lotus

      You are so right, Green Lotus. It is scary to think of how many of us were exposed to asbestos in one form or another, and never knew the inherent danger in what they used to call the "Miracle Mineral."

      And while we're on the subject - how about all the furor about holding cell phones to your ear for extended periods of time? Whether the practice is dangerous to our health or not I find myself using my speaker phone most of the time.

      (Guaranteed to get you thrown out of the movie theater).

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Wow dr, this is so well researched (and kinda scary). So many of us have been exposed to asbestos in our lives and we don't even know it. I'm sure we had an armstrong vinyl floor in our house! (very groovy video by the way). The thing is, one day we'll probably find out that all vinyl is toxic, or that rayon is toxic. Look at the recent recall on all our cool plastic sports water bottles!

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 8 years ago from USA

      drbj - I said it wrong in my comment. The mesothelioma presence is manifested on a chest x-ray as radio opaque "beads" at the diaphragm, not "radio lucent." Sorry for the slip-up. Assign it to old age and a fine physiognamy.

      Gus :-)))

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 8 years ago from USA

      Hi Doc - this is a fine anc very comprehensive article. Great good work ! In a chest x-ray of a patient with mesothelioma an there appear "bright beads" (translucencies) along both left and right diaphragms. When present, they are clear mainfestations of mesothelioma.