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It’s called pleural mesothelioma (also malignant pleural mesothelioma) because this unusually aggressive cancer specifically attacks the anatomic structure known as the pleura. Or, to be even more specific, it attacks the visceral pleura.
Broadly speaking, the pleura is a slick, stretchy membrane positioned between the lungs and the thoracic cage.
The visceral part of the pleura faces the lungs. The reverse side of the pleura, called the parietal pleura, faces the chest wall.
The visceral and parietal sides are actually separate structures with a narrow space between them and held together by just three thin layers of connective tissue. The empty space contains a small amount of fluid that works to keep the outer surfaces of the pleura slippery at all times. The entire pleura is covered with specialized cells known as mesothelials – among other things, mesothelial cells prevent the formation of fibrous scar tissue that could threaten proper functioning of the lungs.
The pleura itself serves multiple purposes. Mainly, it allows pain-free breathing. Each time you inhale, your inflated lungs rub against the thoracic cage. The pleura, being slick, lets the lungs easily slide along the cage walls (much like when a coat of grease is applied to the inside of an axle bearing). Another purpose of the pleura is to help ensure that the lungs do not fill with fluid.
These vital functions are decimated by mesothelioma. As the cancer grows, it overwhelms the pleura and renders it useless. This causes the lungs to fail.
Pleural mesothelioma comes from inhaling tiny particles of asbestos, a cheap mineral with excellent heat-insulation and fireproofing properties that is still used in a range of industrial and consumer products. Typically, it takes decades from the moment particles are inhaled until pleural mesothelioma enters the picture (this extreme gap in time is referred to as the disease’s latency period).
Medical scientists have yet to identify the exact mechanism that allows pleural mesothelioma to erupt when it does (as opposed to years earlier or even immediately after exposure to asbestos). They know only that asbestos exposure is responsible.
Asbestos-containing products include brake pads, roofing shingles, floor tiles and insulation material. When asbestos products are hammered, cut, or otherwise disturbed, tiny but profoundly hazardous asbestos fibers are released into the air. Anyone nearby who is not wearing protective breathing equipment (such as filtration masks) can inhale those asbestos fibers. Once asbestos fibers enter the body, they remain in the lungs – never expelled – and, ultimately, find their way to the pleura.
People most likely have contact with asbestos fibers in this manner include mechanics, construction workers, sheet metal workers, boilermakers, electricians and power-plant workers. Unfortunately, the list doesn’t end with them. It also includes members of their immediate families. Secondary asbestos exposure occurs when someone inhales asbestos fibers dislodged from the clothing of an asbestos worker after he walks in through the front door of his home.
Many who develop pleural mesothelioma don’t realize at first that they have it. The reason: early-stage symptoms closely resemble those of a number of non-cancer conditions. It takes a well-trained physician to immediately recognize pleural mesothelioma symptoms for what they are.
A tentative, reasonably reliable diagnosis can usually be made from imaging studies of the chest – the modalities-of-choice for this purpose are computed tomography (CAT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Confirmation of the diagnosis is obtained by a biopsy or, alternatively, by a minimally invasive thoracentesis (biopsy is a procedure to collect sample tissues for laboratory testing, while thoracentesis collects sample pleural fluid for that same purpose). Cancer doctors sometimes find it helpful to actually see the suspected cancer (so that they can better characterize it); for this they use an instrument called a thorascope – basically a lighted tube through which they can peer after inserting it into an incision made in the chest.
Once the shock of a malignant pleural mesothelioma diagnosis wears off, many patients decide to enroll in a clinical trial as a means of augmenting the treatment regimen prescribed for them. Clinical trials are used by pharmaceutical makers to try out promising new drugs on sizable groups of patients in order to validate safety and effectiveness claims. Sometimes these clinical trials put into patients’ hands helpful medicine that might not otherwise be commercially available for years to come; sometimes the drugs patients receive do little, if any, good.
Later still, many malignant pleural mesothelioma patients realize they have a secondary problem: mounting debt. It costs a small fortune to treat malignant pleural mesothelioma. Additionally, the disease debilitates, making it difficult if not impossible for patients to continue working for a living. Eventually, their financial picture turns so bleak that patients consider the option of taking legal action against the companies at fault for exposing them to asbestos.
On this front, there is good news for malignant pleural mesothelioma patients. Companies can be legally compelled to pay damages if they are found to have failed to protect consumers and workers from asbestos exposure or failed to warn of the dangers embodied by coming into contact with the mineral.
The mesothelioma lawyers of Weitz & Luxenberg have hauled many, many asbestos companies into court for causing the innocent to be stricken with mesothelioma. Whether by verdict or settlement, those same companies have over and over again lost to the victims of pleural mesothelioma and been forced to pay them substantial sums of money in compensation. That is fair and that is just.
What the winners do with the money is, typically, pay off all their debts and put the remainder in the bank to provide for the future.
Weitz & Luxenberg asbestos attorneys – recognized as New York’s “Best Lawyers” and “Super Lawyers” by two different peer-review organizations – accept mesothelioma cases from everywhere in the U.S. and selected provinces of Canada. You can speak to a Weitz & Luxenberg mesothelioma lawyer about your own potential case against the asbestos companies by completing and submitting the form on this page. Soon after you do, an asbestos attorney will be in touch with your to provide a free, no-risk, no-obligation evaluation of your situation and legal rights.
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