Mesothelioma is, currently, an incurable disease that can affect the linings of the lungs, the heart and the stomach. Cancer Research UK describes mesothelioma as a form of cancer that specifically affects the mesothelium – hence the name. The mesothelium is a thin lining that covers the internal organs of the body.
It is caused by breathing in asbestos fibres, which are thrown into the air whenever asbestos is disturbed. These fibres enter the lungs as you breathe in and out and, once inside the body, make their way into the linings of the lungs, causing damage on their way there. They can also migrate to other mesothelial linings, such as those found around the heart and the abdomen, causing damage in those places too. Most surprisingly, mesothelioma can also be found in the testis, however, this is extremely rare and doctors are still unsure of how it occurs.
Why do asbestos fibres cause so much damage in the body?
Asbestos is a natural mineral found in rocks in many countries. It is made up of small fibres that are highly resistant to chemical and heat damage:. They are also sharp and, as they move deeper into the lungs, they cut the delicate tissues. This process not only creates damage, but increases the risk of infection too.
Once the asbestos fibres get into the body, it reacts as it does to any foreign body, by activating the immune system. The inflammation or infection caused by the asbestos, and the subsequent immune response to it cutting the tissue, sets off a chain reaction in the cells. This chain reaction is called cell division and when it becomes unregulated, the cell is considered to be cancerous. Unfortunately, once this process has started, it is very difficult to switch it off again.
There’s one more really important point to think about where mesothelioma is concerned – it can take 20-50 years to show itself. Lots of current sufferers of mesothelioma were exposed many years ago, before asbestos was banned in the late 1990s and, crucially, before employers were obliged to provide the correct safety equipment. In the intervening years, they carried on their lives relatively normally, with little or no issues caused by their exposure.
So, if you start to present with the symptoms we’ve detailed below, you should think very carefully about if and how you might have been exposed to asbestos and whether that exposure was someone else’s fault. If it is determined that you were negligently exposed, by your employer for example, you would be eligible to make a claim for compensation.
Further in-depth information about mesothelioma, including the emotional effects,what your employer should be doing to protect you and possible future treatments can be found in Mesothelioma – What You Need to Know