Mesothelioma Injury Lawsuits: The Dangers of Asbestos

What are the Dangers of Asbestos and How Does It Cause Mesothelioma? Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring minerals that are comprised of heat-resistant fibers. Before the dangers of asbestos were known, the mineral was used in thousands of consumer products sold in the United States. It was found to be an effective insulator and was added to plastic, cement, paper, and cloth to make those materials stronger.

After it was found that asbestos causes lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other cancers it was highly regulated—but not banned.  The primary exporters of asbestos are Russia, Kazakhstan, and China. When the microscopic fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can become permanently trapped inside the body, causing scarring, inflammation, and genetic damage. Inhaled fibers usually cause inflammation and mesothelioma of the lining of the lungs; when those fibers are coughed up and swallowed, they can cause inflammation and peritoneal mesothelioma cancer of the stomach lining.  

Mesothelioma is a rare—but very aggressive—cancer that is almost exclusively the result of asbestos exposure. Another progressive lung disease caused by asbestos exposure is known as asbestosis. While no amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe, usually those who are exposed to asbestos on a regular basis, or those who are exposed to a significant concentration of asbestos will suffer the greatest adverse effects. Each year in the U.S., asbestos kills at least 40,000 Americans as our country is the only developed country that has not fully banned the substance.

Between 1940 and 1979 at least 27 million workers in the United States were exposed to aerosolized asbestos products. There are currently 1.3 million workers, largely in the construction industry, that remain at risk of asbestos exposure, as well as in the following industries that remain high risk:

  • Automotive repair
  • Building and equipment maintenance
  • Firefighting
  • Oilfield brake block repair
  • Sheet gasket use
  • Renovation and demolition
  • Chloralkali production

Asbestos was used extensively by the U.S. military between the 1930s and 1970s, particularly on navy ships. Because of this, veterans make up almost one-third of all mesothelioma victims. Secondhand exposure to asbestos by family members of veterans also brings an elevated risk of developing mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. Asbestos fibers can be taken home by workers in their clothing, tools, and hair.

Those who live in an area that has an asbestos processing facility or an asbestos-contaminated mine are also at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma. These worksites include landmarks like Grand Central Terminal in New York, and in the town of Ambler, PA. Decades of vermiculite mining near Libby, Montana caused one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history as the ore contained traces of asbestos that contaminated miles of surrounding areas.

Today, exposure to asbestos usually occurs when an old building containing asbestos is renovated or demolished, although it can also occur with workers who handle the new asbestos products that remain legal imports into the United States. The EPA completed a risk evaluation in 2020 regarding asbestos and mesothelioma, finding an unreasonable exposure of risk to those handling aftermarket auto brakes and linings. Sheet gaskets, oilfield brake blocks, and asbestos diaphragms.

What are the Types of Mesothelioma and How is Each Type Different?

There are four types of mesothelioma that include:

  • Pleural mesothelioma—When the protective lining covering the chest cavity and lungs is affected by asbestos fibers, malignant pleural mesothelioma occurs. This is the most common type of mesothelioma, accounting for at least 80 percent of all cases. There are four stages of malignant pleural mesothelioma under the Tumor Node Metastasis staging system.
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma—The second most common type of mesothelioma, affecting about 10 percent of all mesothelioma patients is peritoneal mesothelioma. This type of mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdomen and has one of the highest survival rates of any type of mesothelioma—about 65 percent of those diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma will live at least five years following their diagnosis if they receive appropriate treatment.
  • Pericardial mesothelioma—This type of mesothelioma accounts for less than one percent of all mesothelioma cases. Pericardial mesothelioma forms in the lining of the heart and has a low life expectancy—just six months on average following the diagnosis.
  • Testicular mesothelioma—When mesothelioma develops in the lining of the testes, it is known as testicular mesothelioma. This type of asbestos-related cancer is extremely rare, with only 289 cases ever reported. The average survival time for those diagnosed with testicular mesothelioma is about 23 months with appropriate treatment.

Asbestos exposure can also (rarely) cause cancer of the kidneys, esophagus, larynx, colon, digestive tract as well as some types of lymphoma.

There are also three “cell types” of mesothelioma, including:

  • Malignant Epithelioid Mesothelioma Cells—Malignant epithelioid mesothelioma is a cancer subtype caused by asbestos and the most common mesothelioma cell type. Epithelial cells line the part of the airway known as the bronchus, which is an area that is particularly susceptible to asbestos inhalation. Epithelioid cells lack mobility and adhere closely together, therefore, are less likely to spread and metastasize than sarcomatoid cells.
  • Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma Cells—Those who have sarcomatoid mesothelioma cells usually have a worse prognosis than those with epithelioid mesothelioma. Sarcomatoid cells are long, shaped like spindles, and grow in a haphazard pattern, which is why they spread faster than other types of mesothelioma cell types. Because of the way sarcomatoid mesothelioma cells spread, they are much more difficult to treat.  
  • Biphasic Mesothelioma Cells—When tumors contain a combination of sarcomatoid and epithelial cells, it is known as biphasic mesothelioma cells. The prognosis for a patient with biphasic mesothelioma depends on the ratio of epithelial cells to sarcomatoid cells. When there are more sarcomatoid cells, the prognosis is less positive. Those with pleural mesothelioma are more likely to have biphasic cells than those with peritoneal mesothelioma.

How is Each Type of Mesothelioma Diagnosed, and Treated and What is the Prognosis? The four stages of mesothelioma and their average prognosis include:

  • Stage One mesothelioma means the cancer has not spread beyond its origin. The average mesothelioma prognosis for Stage One mesothelioma is about 21 months, although this can be significantly extended through medical treatments.
  • Stage Two mesothelioma means the cancer has spread slightly, perhaps even into the lymph nodes. The average mesothelioma prognosis for stage two mesothelioma is 19 months, although this can be significantly extended through medical treatments.
  • Stage Three mesothelioma means the cancer has spread to nearby tissues, organs, and lymph nodes. The average mesothelioma prognosis for Stage Three mesothelioma is 16 months. Treatment is focused on slowing the progression of the disease and managing symptoms.
  • Stage Four mesothelioma means the cancer has spread to distant areas of the body. The mesothelioma prognosis for Stage Four mesothelioma is about 12 months; patients typically undergo palliative treatments at this stage of their disease that are meant to improve quality of life.

Symptoms associated with mesothelioma cancer will depend on where the tumor first formed, although there are symptoms that are associated with all types of mesothelioma tumors, including:

  • Night sweats
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen
  • Fluid buildup in the chest
  • Fever
  • Fatigue

When the cancer has not spread, the symptoms are generally mild and vague. Unfortunately, many patients are not aware of their illness until the cancer is quite advanced. The mesothelioma treatment options include:

  • For pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, the primary treatments include surgery, mesothelioma chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. These treatments can extend life expectancy by relieving symptoms and shrinking the mesothelioma tumors and cells. Surgery can include extrapleural pneumonectomy which removes the entire affected lung, along with any nearby area where the pleural mesothelioma has spread. This could potentially include the heart lining, the chest lining, the diaphragm, and the lymph nodes. A pleurectomy decortication spares the lung, removing only the cancerous parts of the pleural lining, the lining of the chest wall, the lining of the heart, and the diaphragm. This type of surgery is less aggressive than extrapleural pneumonectomy, but is still a very serious surgical procedure. Mesothelioma chemotherapy is usually a combination of chemotherapy drugs—pemetrexed with cisplatin, or gemcitabine with carboplatin for returning mesothelioma. Radiation could include brachytherapy which is an internal, radioactive implant that kills nearby cancer cells, or external beam radiation therapy which delivers x-ray beams from the outside to kill cells at the site of the cancer. 
  • Mesothelioma palliative treatments are supportive procedures that focus on controlling symptoms while improving the quality of life. These treatments may include:
  • Thoracentesis—a long needle is inserted into the pleura to remove any buildup of fluid surrounding the lungs.
  • PleurX Catheter—A small chest drain to prevent fluid buildup around the lungs.
  • Pleurodesis—a more invasive procedure that eliminates the space in the pleura where fluid develops.
  • Paracentesis—the use of a long needle to remove fluids from the abdominal area
  • Pericardiocentesis—Similar to paracentesis to remove flue from the sac surrounding the heart.

Emerging treatments for mesothelioma include photodynamic therapy (an injection of a light-sensitive drug into the patient then a laser light is used to activate the drug and kill cancer cells), gene therapy (genetic modification of cells and viruses), cryotherapy (a minimally invasive surgical procedure that freezes and kills cancer cells), and virotherapy (a treatment that uses viruses to find and attack cancerous cells).

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it could be very beneficial to speak to an experienced mesothelioma attorney from the Houston Law Firm of Sullo & Sullo.

DISCLAIMER: Statutes of Limitations limit the amount of time that an individual has to file a lawsuit, and not only vary from state to state, but also vary by cause of action. The information provided above and in the state-specific pages in this section is meant as a general guide, and is for informational purposes only. Each client’s case is unique, and the specific circumstances of any individual case can have significant bearing on the applicable statute of limitations. Any person who believes they may have a viable cause of action is strongly encouraged to consult with an attorney about the statute of limitations for his or her case. Attorney Andrew Sullo is licensed to practice law in Texas, and can prosecute cases that are part of a federal multi-district litigation. Andrew Sullo does not practice law in any other state, and is not certified by the Boards of Legal Specialization in any state. Not all states have board certifications. This information is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the State of Texas. Our firm is not accepting cases in any state where it would be impermissible for it to do so. Sullo & Sullo, LLP maintains its principal office in Houston, Texas.

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