Asbestos and Cancer - What You Should Know
By Karen Brown
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another
asbestos related cancer, you may want to seek legal advice. Typical legal
settelements can reach five million dollars.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells
are found in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the
body's internal organs. Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked on
jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles.
What is the mesothelium?
The mesothelium is a membrane that covers and protects most of the internal
organs of the body. It is composed of two layers of cells: One layer
immediately surrounds the organ; the other forms a sac around it. The
mesothelium produces a lubricating fluid that is released between these
layers, allowing moving organs (such as the beating heart and the expanding
and contracting lungs) to glide easily against adjacent structures.
The mesothelium has different names, depending on its location in the body.
The peritoneum is the mesothelial tissue that covers most of the organs in
the abdominal cavity. The pleura is the membrane that surrounds the lungs
and lines the wall of the chest cavity. The pericardium covers and protects
the heart. The mesothelial tissue surrounding the male internal reproductive
organs is called the tunica vaginalis testis. The tunica serosa uteri covers
the internal reproductive organs in women.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma (cancer of the mesothelium) is a disease in which cells of the
mesothelium become abnormal and divide without control or order. They can
invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also
metastasize (spread) from their original site to other parts of the body.
Most cases of mesothelioma begin in the pleura or peritoneum.
How common is mesothelioma?
Although reported incidence rates have increased in the past 20 years,
mesothelioma is still a relatively rare cancer. About 2,000 new cases of
mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States each year. Mesothelioma
occurs more often in men than in women and risk increases with age, but this
disease can appear in either men or women at any age.
What are the risk factors for mesothelioma?
Working with asbestos is the major risk factor for mesothelioma. A history
of asbestos exposure at work is reported in about 70 percent to 80 percent
of all cases. However, mesothelioma has been reported in some individuals
without any known exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos is the name of a group of minerals that occur naturally as masses
of strong, flexible fibers that can be separated into thin threads and
woven. Asbestos has been widely used in many industrial products, including
cement, brake linings, roof shingles, flooring products, textiles, and
insulation. If tiny asbestos particles float in the air, especially during
the manufacturing process, they may be inhaled or swallowed, and can cause
serious health problems. In addition to mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos
increases the risk of lung cancer, asbestosis (a noncancerous, chronic lung
ailment), and other cancers, such as those of the larynx and kidney.
Smoking does not appear to increase the risk of mesothelioma. However, the
combination of smoking and asbestos exposure significantly increases a
person's risk of developing cancer of the air passageways in the lung.
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