Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer associated to asbestos exposure which develops mainly in the lining of the lungs [pleural mesothelioma] and less commonly in the lining of the tummy [peritoneal mesothelioma]. In extremely rare cases it can be found within the linings of the heart [pericardial mesothelioma] and within the lining of the testicle [testicular mesothelioma]. In the UK in excess of 2,600 people each year are diagnosed with mesothelioma the vast majority of whom are men aged between 60 – 78 years of age who traditionally have worked in male-dominated industrial settings.

The UK has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world due in part to the fact the UK government permitted the use of asbestos long after other countries had imposed a ban. In 1999 the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott signed the Asbestos (Prohibitions) (Amendment) Regulations which banned chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) and underlined a complete ban on the import, use and sale of asbestos products within the UK. Earlier in 1985 raw amosite (brown asbestos) and crocidolite (blue asbestos) had been banned from the UK.

The number of mesothelioma deaths is expected to peak around 2020 after which there should be a reduction brought about by the introduction of Asbestos Regulations and greater awareness to health and safety in the workplace. Despite improvements in health and safety and greater public awareness asbestos still poses some threat to future generations given it can still be found in many older buildings and homes thereby posing a particular threat to DIY enthusiasts.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material which is durable and resistant to heat, fire and many chemicals and because of these qualities was widely used in many products across all industries between the 1940’s and 1980’s. Despite once being hailed a ‘miracle mineral’ and now banned in the UK, early scientific warnings made in the 1920’s and 1930’s warned of potentially serious respiratory illnesses arising from asbestos fibre exposure.

The 20 most affected sites in the UK, associated to mesothelioma, include Barking and Dagenham, Barrow-In-Furness, Crew and Nantwich, Eastleigh, Glasgow City, Gosport, Hartlepool, Havant, Inverclyde, Medway, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Newham, North Tyneside, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Renfrewshire, South Tyneside, Southampton, Sunderland and West Dunbartonshire.

Other asbestos related diseases associated to asbestos fibres include lung cancer, asbestosis, pleural thickening, pleural plaques and pleural effusion. Asbestos related diseases can take many years to develop after exposure to asbestos fibres and dust and are caused by inhalation of asbestos fibres which become trapped in the linings of the lungs. Over time the fibres cause inflammation, irritation and scarring to the lung tissue which sometimes leads to cancerous changes and formation of more serious illness, mesothelioma and lung cancer. The delayed period until symptoms become apparent is referred to as the ‘latency period’ which can be as short as 10 years extending up to 50 yrs and sometimes longer.

The chance of developing mesothelioma or any other asbestos related disease is based upon ‘risk factors’ which consider the extent of asbestos inhaled and the period of time the exposure occurred over. Referred to as ‘dosage’ the more exposure to asbestos encountered the greater the risk of developing an asbestos illness and it is generally workers who have handled the material on a regular basis and through environmental contact become ill albeit any exposure to potentially harmful asbestos fibres can present a risk of developing an illness. Family members of workers sometimes develop illnesses, in particular mesothelioma which is brought about by contact and inhalation of fibres brought into the home on the workers’ clothing, hair or skin. This type of case is often described as ‘secondary exposure’ or ‘washing cases’.

Over the years and through a number of cases the courts have considered liability towards family members of workers in situations which extend beyond any common law duty a company has towards it’s employed workers. In a leading case of Maguire v Harland & Wolff it was established that liability in secondary exposure cases could be established if exposure occurred post 1965 the basis of which followed a publication by Newhouse and Thompson which linked ‘occupational and domestic exposure to asbestos’. The most recent case impacting upon mesothelioma victims involves Bussey v Anglia Heating Ltd which involved technical arguments regarding the amount of exposure Mr Bussey had been exposed to during his time as a plumber between 1965 and 1968 where he handled asbestos products. Mr Bussey passed away from mesothelioma and it was argued his exposure fell short of TDN13 levels. However, The Court of Appeal found in favour of Mr Bussey’s widow confirming that low levels of asbestos exposure could attract liability if there was an absence of proper precautions taken to protect workers. The findings in this case are ground breaking and will ensure greater justice is received by those diagnosed with mesothelioma through their work throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Whilst tobacco smoking is accepted as being a cause of weakened lungs making them more susceptible to asbestos-related lung cancer, smoking has no impact upon the risk of developing mesothelioma cancer. Other factors which could increase the risk of developing an asbestos related illness include genetics, age and gender, exposure to mineral fibres and radiation. Despite these risk factors exposure to asbestos fibres does not mean that you will develop mesothelioma or indeed any other asbestos illness.

A high risk group would typically include those who have worked in the manufacture of asbestos products and those who have used asbestos materials across a broad range of industry including shipbuilding, construction, power stations, motor industry, plumbing and heating, insulation (‘laggers’), carpenters and telephone exchanges. It is estimated that almost 6% of British men born in the 1940’s who worked in carpentry for more than 10 years before the age of thirty develop mesothelioma.

Common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent cough, fatigue, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss and clubbed (swollen) fingertips whilst peritoneal mesothelioma is associated to tummy pain or swelling, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss, feeling or being sick and diarrhoea or constipation. If you have any health concerns, persistent or worrying symptoms consult with your GP and discuss your exposure history with asbestos. If your GP feels you could have mesothelioma you will be referred to a special clinic specialising in this type of cancer where under existing hospital protocol you will be seen within two weeks of referral [if resident in England or Wales] and your treatment should start within 31 days.

Diagnosing mesothelioma can sometimes be difficult and is achieved using a range of investigations which include x-rays of the chest and abdomen depending upon the area of suspicion. An x-ray will help to determine certain signs of mesothelioma including pleural effusion (build-up of fluid in the chest) and thickening of the pleural lining but CT scan is the imaging of choice which provides clearer and more detailed cross-sectional images of the mesothelioma, its size, location and if the cancer has spread in the body. A PET-CT scan is often used in pleural mesothelioma treatment and is particularly beneficial in helping to stage the cancer and show any spread into distant organs.

Whilst providing strong evidence, x-rays and scans do not provide a definitive diagnosis of cancer which is usually made by a pathologist who is able to microscopically examine tissue and cells taken from the thickened pleura [chest] or peritoneum [tummy]. Researchers continue to develop blood tests to identify certain substances called ‘biomarkers’ found in mesothelioma which can be used to detect conditions early, enable treatment and improve life expectancy. In many instances a build-up of fluid will occur around the lungs [pleural effusion] or within the tummy [ascites] which can be drawn off and examined for mesothelioma cells. It normally takes a few days to analyse specimens and even then it might still be necessary to undertake further exploration by way of key hole surgery.

A diagnosis of mesothelioma can be incredibly overwhelming both physically and emotionally and in many instances will impact upon loved ones, family and friends and require making complex decisions in terms of tests, deciding upon a treatment plan and getting your affairs in order. Despite advances in treatment it is usually regarded as a terminal condition with treatments aimed at easing symptoms and improving a quality of life. Historically, survival rates for mesothelioma were measured in terms of one year survival. However, thanks to advances in treatment many more mesothelioma sufferers are living longer, in particular patients diagnosed under the age of 50 years who are eligible for more intensive treatments.

Treatment options for mesothelioma patients depends upon several factors including how advanced the cancer has spread, a patient’s general level of health, the cell type and stage of the cancer. There are three cell types of mesothelioma which include epithelial, sarcomatoid and biphasic which respond differently to treatment. Sadly, mesothelioma is often diagnosed at an advanced stage which can limit the treatment options available and whilst waiting for tests and results can be frustrating it is nevertheless more important to receive the right treatment than receiving quicker treatment. It is important you consider all treatment options available and wherever necessary seek a second opinion which might offer wider treatment options and better suit your lifestyle changes.

Surgery is recommended to early stage patients who are younger and in good health with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy being made available to others regardless of their age or stage of cancer. A range of drugs and clinical trials are continually tested and evaluated and wherever appropriate you should speak with your Consultant who will advise upon the most suitable medicines for your need.

It is important people diagnosis with mesothelioma take care of their health and wherever possible take steps to improve their diet and maintain their immune system. Avoid smoking which can exacerbate their condition and try to manage any increased stress levels which can also impact upon your ability to recover from treatments. Methods for managing stress and improving your lifestyle might include yoga, a hobby, reading or aromatherapy which can help improve your quality of life enabling you to cope and enjoy your time with family and friends.

Sufferers of mesothelioma have legal options and are able to recover compensation from former employers through a fast track process which is designed to address issue of liability and ensure recovery of an early interim payment of £50,000. Additionally sufferers are entitled to a range of government compensation and benefits which we can help you claim for which include, 2008 Diffuse Mesothelioma Payments, Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS) and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB).

We are leading experts in mesothelioma and other asbestos-related matters who operate on a strict ‘no win no fee’ arrangement – call us today for free advice on FREEPHONE 0808 164 7740, email us at info@scottishasbestoshelpline.co.uk and learn more by visiting www.scottishasbestoshelpline.co.uk.


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