Asbestos exposure is known to cause a number of conditions including asbestosis and pleural thickening. It also causes two types of cancer, namely, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Types of mesothelioma
There are four types of mesothelioma:
- Pleural mesothelioma – affecting the lining of the lungs
- Peritoneal mesothelioma – affecting the membrane of the abdominal cavity
- Pericardial mesothelioma – affecting the lining of the heart
- Testicular mesothelioma – affecting the lining of the testicles
Whilst all forms of mesothelioma are rare, the most common type of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma and this accounts for around 75% of all mesothelioma diagnoses. As it affects the lungs, pleural mesothelioma is often referred to as lung cancer however there are many differences between the two conditions.
How do they develop in the body?
Whilst both mesothelioma and lung cancer can be caused by exposure to asbestos, the majority of lung cancer cases are thought to be caused by smoking or environmental exposure to other pollutants.
Asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer with around 4% of lung cancer deaths each year being attributable to asbestos exposure. This can be compared to mesothelioma which is almost exclusively caused as a result of asbestos exposure. Importantly whilst the risks involved in smoking and the developing lung cancer are well known, crucially there is no causal relationship between mesothelioma and smoking.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of the two cancers are similar and this may go some way to explain why they are often confused. Both can cause a dry cough, chest pain and difficulty breathing, along with weight loss and fatigue. It may not be until further investigations have been carried out, such as scans or biopsies, that a mesothelioma diagnosis can be confirmed over a lung cancer diagnosis.
The latency period for each condition also differs. Lung cancer most often presents itself between 10 and 30 years after exposure to a carcinogen whereas the latency period for mesothelioma is typically between 10 and 50 years.
Lung cancer affects the lung itself and generally involves isolated cancerous tumour masses in the lungs. Mesotheliomaaffects the lining of the lungs and is a diffuse malignancy. This means that the separation between healthy tissue and cancerous tissue is blurred and it is this difference that makes mesothelioma so difficult to treat.
What treatments are available?
Treatment options for sufferers depend upon how early the cancer has been identified and most treatment plans will include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.
Whilst many lung cancers can be treated, resulting inpatients moving into remission, there is no known cure for mesothelioma and treatment is usually aimed at preventing further tumour growth and alleviating the symptoms. As lung cancer involves isolated masses, surgery can often be more effective than it is in the treatment of mesothelioma.
If you, a family member or colleague are concerned over asbestos exposure, contact Asbestos Justice on 0800 038 6767 for expert legal advice.