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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