When you hear about mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, you usually think about illnesses of the lungs. Asbestosis and lung cancer caused by asbestos are associated with breathing in asbestos fibers. These fibers then do physical damage to the lungs and can cause cancer. But peritoneal mesothelioma (abdominal mesothelioma) is different because it isn’t caused by inhaling the toxic fiber into your lungs. Instead, it’s caused in one of two main ways. First is if you breathe in asbestos and rather than it going into your lungs it goes into your abdominal region and lodges there. Second is if asbestos is inhaled into the lung and then makes its way to your lymph nodes which can travel through the lymphatic vessels and into your abdomen.
How Common Is Abdominal Mesothelioma?
Abdominal (peritoneal) mesothelioma is the second most common type of mesothelioma and makes up anywhere from 10%-20% of all mesothelioma cases. Of the approximately 3,000 people that are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year, somewhere between 300 to 600 of these will be abdominal mesothelioma. Like other forms of mesothelioma, this type is also slow moving and can gestate for 20 years or longer before being diagnosed.
What Are the Symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma?
You can have few to no symptoms for decades but once they develop can include tiredness or fatigue, sudden weight loss, ongoing diarrhea or constipation, nausea, vomiting, pain in the abdomen, swelling in the abdomen, lumps in the abdomen that can be felt through the skin, fever and low iron (anemia).
What Is the Peritoneum the Disease Is Named For?
When you hear “abdomen” you mostly think of your stomach, but it’s actually the entire middle part of your body where all of your digestive organs, reproductive organs, kidneys and liver reside. The peritoneum is a membrane that covers the abdominal cavity and also wraps around the organs themselves. When asbestos is either swallowed or inhaled and travels through the lymphatic system it can end up lodged in the peritoneum where it changes the cells so they ultimately become cancerous.
How Does Asbestos End Up In Your Stomach?
When you breathe in air, it goes from your throat to your lungs through the trachea (the tube between your throat and lungs). When you eat or drink, the substances go from your throat to your stomach through the esophagus (the tube between your throat and stomach). Have you ever choked up because a drink ends up down the wrong tube and makes you choke up because it goes into your lungs?
The same things can happen when you breathe in asbestos. Rather than being inhaled into the lungs, sometimes asbestos can be swallowed. This can contribute to the growth of cancer in your stomach or other organs in the abdomen. This type of cancer is called peritoneal mesothelioma or abdominal mesothelioma. If you’ve been diagnosed with this disease, it was likely caused by asbestos exposure.
What Does the Asbestos Do When It Reaches the Abdomen?
It can take decades before symptoms of this disease appear so it can progress significantly before you ever know it’s there. After being “infected” by asbestos, first the peritoneal layer will grow thicker, then fluid will accumulate between the layers of tissue there (this is called ascites) and finally cancerous tumors will form and grow.
Are There Any Treatments for Peritoneal Mesothelioma?
There are several options available to victims of this asbestos-related disease. If abdominal mesothelioma is diagnosed early enough, surgery is often the first recourse. A surgeon will attempt to remove the cancerous tumors within or on the abdominal lining. If the cancer has progressed and simple tumor removal is not possible, more aggressive surgery may be recommended.
Peritonectomy combined with cytoreductive surgery are the next surgical options. Cyto simply means “cell” so the latter means simply surgery to reduce cells – specifically cancer cells. Any surgery that ends in “ectomy” means something is being removed. With these two surgeries together, the surgeon will remove areas of the peritoneum that are heavily infected with cancer along with any portions of (or the whole of) the gall bladder, bowels, bladder, liver, pancreas, spleen and stomach that have cancerous growths attached.
Chemotherapy, which is a common therapy for many types of cancer, is also used to treat peritoneal mesothelioma and may be done through traditional IV introduction or during the above mentioned surgery and applied directly to the abdominal lining. These therapies can be used independently or together in what is called multimodal therapy which simply means that different methods are used together.
If you’ve been diagnosed with abdominal mesothelioma or any other type of mesothelioma – or if you have a loved one suffering from mesothelioma or have lost a loved one to this disease, we can help. Bergman Draper Oslund has won more than $700 million in settlements for our clients. Let us help you too. Call us for an immediate free consultation about making a mesothelioma claim for compensation for your asbestos exposure.