Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor that usually forms inside the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart, and is almost always attributable to asbestos exposure. Malignant mesothelioma occurs in the mesothelium, which is the thin layer of tissue that covers most internal organs.
Mesothelial cells produce a lubricating fluid and form a mesh that protects the organs by allowing them to slide against each other, expand and contract. The mesothelium has different names in different areas of the body, and cancer may form in any of these areas:
- The pleura covers the lungs and the chest cavity
- The peritoneum lines the inside of the abdomen
- The pericardium covers the heart
- The tunica vaginalis
When the DNA in mesothelioma cells becomes damaged, cells begin to grow out of control and become cancerous. While most mesothelioma tumors are malignant, there are rare instances of benign tumors.
Types and causes of malignant mesothelioma
Asbestos exposure is the main cause of mesothelioma. When someone breathes in asbestos fibers, these travel to the ends of tiny air passages to reach the pleura, causing inflammation and scarring. If they swallow the airborne fibers, they can become lodged in the peritoneal or stomach lining. Mesothelioma can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years to develop, and most victims receive a diagnosis in their 60s or 70s.
More than 75% mesotheliomas are pleural, and peritoneal mesotheliomas comprise most of the remaining cases. Both pericardial and tunica vaginalis mesotheliomas are very rare.
Sources of asbestos exposure
Most people who develop mesothelioma have had exposure to asbestos in the workplace. Having said this, many people who have been exposed to asbestos never develop mesothelioma. Some at-risk worksites in communities throughout the northwest include shipyards, railroads, ironworks factories and auto manufacturing plants. Asbestos was a building material widely in use throughout the military, and as a result, Navy, Army and Air Force veterans make up 30% of all mesothelioma cases.
Individuals in Seattle and throughout Washington who have received a diagnosis of mesothelioma may find that their symptoms over the years have compromised their quality of life, caused them pain and suffering as well as lost income, and forced them to pay for expensive medical treatments. For victims of asbestos exposure and their families, building a solid injury claim will bring relief and just compensation for all they have suffered.