Understanding The Link Between Asbestos And Mesothelioma

Seamen are no strangers to asbestos-containing materials in ships and maritime industries. For many years, maritime workers have been put at risk of asbestos exposure and now many of them are facing unfortunate consequences, including often incurable diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and more.

For maritime workers, asbestos exposure is a risk due to the widespread historical use of asbestos-containing materials in ships and maritime industries. This includes:

  • Shipbuilding and repair: Asbestos has been widely used in the construction and repair of ships, mostly for insulation, fireproofing, and soundproofing. Shipbuilders, repair workers, and maintenance crews may come into contact with asbestos-containing materials while working on or renovating vessels.
  • Insulation: Asbestos was used in pipe insulation, boiler rooms, and engine rooms of ships to prevent heat transfer. Workers involved in maintaining, repairing, or replacing insulation materials could be exposed to airborne asbestos fibers.
  • Construction of ships including Navy vessels: Military ships, including naval vessels, were often constructed using asbestos-containing materials. Naval personnel involved in ship maintenance, retrofitting, or decommissioning may encounter asbestos hazards.
  • Demolition and renovation: When older ships are decommissioned or renovated, the removal of asbestos-containing materials can release fibers into the air. Workers involved in shipbreaking or renovation projects without proper safety measures are at risk of exposure.
  • Cargo handling: Some cargo, especially older products, and equipment, might have been packaged using asbestos-containing materials. Dockworkers and longshoremen who handle these cargoes could potentially be exposed to asbestos fibers.
  • Risk during maintenance and repairs: Routine maintenance, repairs, and upgrades on ships may involve cutting, drilling, or sanding asbestos-containing materials, which can release asbestos fibers into the air. This puts maritime workers, such as electricians, plumbers, and mechanics, at risk.
  • Neglected or deteriorated materials: As ships age and deteriorate, asbestos-containing materials may degrade, allowing fibers to become airborne. Workers who perform maintenance on older ships without proper protective measures could be exposed to asbestos.

Anyone who worked in the maritime industry prior to the mid-1980s may have been exposed to asbestos.

Researchers from the Department of Pathology at the Durham Veterans Administration and the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina conducted a study examining 1445 cases of mesothelioma.

Their findings revealed that merchant marine seamen and individuals serving in the U.S. Navy had the second-highest number of mesothelioma cases of any occupational category, right after those who worked in shipbuilding.

The researchers also discovered that out of 37 mesothelioma patients from the merchant marine and U.S. Navy, 4 of them (which is about 11%) also had asbestosis.

It is important to note that although workers who have been directly exposed to asbestos are at higher risk of developing mesothelioma, those with secondhand exposure may also be susceptible to this aggressive form of cancer.

Secondhand exposure occurs when individuals come into contact with asbestos fibers carried on the clothing, skin, or hair of primary asbestos-exposed individuals, potentially leading to the development of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. This risk typically involves family members of the maritime workers as they might be exposed to asbestos fibers brought home on work clothes.

Mesothelioma: The Asbestos-Caused Cancer

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that primarily affects the lining of certain organs, including:

  • The tissue around the lungs
  • The tissue in the abdomen
  • The tissue around the heart
  • The tissue around the testicles

In the United States, cancer is the second leading cause of death, exceeded only by heart disease. Approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed every year across the nation.

The Concerning Main Causes of Mesothelioma

The diagnosis of mesothelioma has mainly been linked to toxic exposure to industrial pollutants, especially asbestos.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of fibrous silicate minerals and can be found in rocks and soil. Its fibers are thin, durable, and resistant to heat, fire, bacteria, and many chemicals.

Asbestos was widely used back in the 20th century before scientists gained knowledge about the serious health issues associated with it. Due to its unique properties, beyond the maritime purposes mentioned earlier, it has also been widely utilized for:

  • Construction materials (such as insulation, roofing, and flooring)
  • Automotive parts
  • Textiles
  • Fireproofing

Asbestos is no longer mined in the United States, however, it might still be present in imported products and in some older homes and buildings, making people who are exposed to these fibers vulnerable to its often deathly consequences.

Handling materials containing asbestos may cause microscopic fibers to be released into the air. When these fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can become trapped in the respiratory system or digestive tract, putting workers and others who breathed in or swallowed asbestos fibers at risk.

Maritime occupations that are at risk include but are not limited to:

  • Shipbuilders
  • Shipyard Workers
  • Ship Repair Technicians
  • Insulation Installers
  • Pipefitters
  • Electrician’s Mates
  • Gunner’s Mates
  • Welders
  • Boiler Technicians
  • Navy personnel
  • Deckhands and Crew Members
  • Engineers
  • Painters
  • Demolition Crews
  • Dockworkers

Additionally, due to secondhand exposure, you may also want to consult with your doctor if you are (or have been):

  • Living with someone who works with asbestos
  • Living or working in a building where asbestos-containing materials have been disturbed
  • Living in an area with natural asbestos deposits or in proximity to asbestos mines or factories

The symptoms of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases commonly take many years to show up. Nonetheless, these diseases can be life-threatening, and obtaining an initial diagnosis as early as possible may enhance the likelihood of survival.

Seamen and other maritime workers are at special risk of asbestos exposure as, during work, they may be exposed to asbestos in situations including:

  • Construction, repair, or renovation of ships
  • Insulation material removal or replacement
  • Maintenance, demolition, or dismantling work on ships, especially in older vessels
  • Welding and cutting operations
  • Sandblasting or using abrasive materials to remove old paint
  • Activities that involve drilling, cutting, or otherwise manipulating materials that might contain asbestos
  • Work on engines, machinery, pipes, and other ship systems
  • Older ships decommissioning or scrapping
  • Accidents, collisions, or fires on ships
  • Cargo Handling

Therefore, it is of great importance for employers to provide enough information and equipment to their workers about the potential health risks they might face as the lack of adequate and sufficient protection or warnings plays an important role in the amount of damage asbestos exposure may cause.

If you or a loved one developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure, you and your family may be entitled to financial compensation. To learn more about your legal rights and options, take the first step today and fill out our contact form or call us at 866-871-8422 for a FREE legal consultation.

While not everyone who is exposed to asbestos gets mesothelioma, those exposed to asbestos over many years are at higher risk of developing mesothelioma and other life-threatening diseases.

Among individuals who have experienced heavy and prolonged exposure to asbestos, including seamen, research indicates that approximately 8% to 13% develop mesothelioma.

Common Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a complex disease with various types that affect the body differently. This means that depending on where the cancer develops, the impacted individual may present a different set of symptoms and characteristics.

Common symptoms of the most prevalent types of mesothelioma can include:

Pleural mesothelioma (mesothelioma in the tissue around the lungs):

  • Chest pain (under your rib cage)
  • Coughing
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Palpable bumps or nodules on your chest
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Peritoneal mesothelioma (mesothelioma in the tissue in the abdomen):

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Pericardial mesothelioma (mesothelioma in the tissue around the heart)

  • Chest pain
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm)
  • Heart murmur (blowing, whooshing, or rasping sound heard during a heartbeat)
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Unexplained weight loss

Mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis (mesothelioma in the tissue around the testicles):

  • Testicular mass, swelling, or a lump in the scrotum
  • Testicular pain
  • Hydrocele (fluid accumulation in the scrotum)
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

We highly recommend you talk to your doctor for a thorough evaluation and proper diagnosis as these symptoms may be similar to those caused by conditions other than mesothelioma, including:

  • Asbestosis: A lung disease caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers, leading to scarring of lung tissue, cough, and difficulty breathing.
  • Lung Cancer: This cancer starts in the lungs and is often associated with symptoms such as persistent cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
  • Pleural Effusion: This refers to the buildup of excess fluid between the layers of pleural space (the tissue that lines the lungs and the chest wall) leading to breathing difficulties and chest discomfort.

Asbestos exposure may unfortunately bring tragic consequences that can significantly impact a maritime worker’s life, leading to the development of severe and often fatal diseases.

These diseases not only pose physical challenges but also disrupt emotional well-being, financial stability, and overall quality of life for both patients and their families.

If you as a maritime worker developed mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease as a result of asbestos exposure, you may be able to seek financial compensation. Fill out our contact form or call 866-871-8422 to learn more about how we can help.

How Is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

Mesothelioma is a disease known to have a latency period (the time between initial exposure to asbestos and the patient’s diagnosis) of up to 40 years. Understanding the different types of mesothelioma and their associated symptoms can aid in early detection and proper diagnosis.

Mesothelioma is diagnosed through a combination of medical evaluations, imaging tests, and other procedures. The diagnostic process typically involves the following steps:

  • Medical history: Your doctor will review your medical history, paying special attention to any potential asbestos exposure if you are displaying signs and symptoms that could indicate mesothelioma.
  • Physical examination: In this physical examination, if your doctor or healthcare provider suspects mesothelioma, they may check for the presence of palpable lumps and other unusual signs.
  • Imaging tests: To investigate further, your doctor or healthcare provider may also request imaging scans such as a chest X-ray or a computed tomography (CT) scan of your chest or abdomen to identify any potential abnormalities.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy is the definitive diagnostic procedure for mesothelioma. It involves the removal of a small tissue sample from the affected area for examination. Your doctor selects an appropriate biopsy procedure for you depending on where the affected tissue is suspected to be.
  • Pathological Examination: The collected tissue sample is then analyzed by a pathologist who examines it under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present. If they are, the pathologist may also identify other traits of them, such as the type and stage of mesothelioma, based on the characteristics of the cells. Your treatment plan is determined by the specific type of mesothelioma you have.

After confirming the presence of malignant mesothelioma, your doctor might suggest further tests to assess if the cancer has reached other parts of your body. This may include further imaging tests, depending on your specific case.

To determine the stage of the cancer, the extent and spread of the malignant tumor are commonly taken into account.

The four stages commonly used for staging include:

  • Stage I: At this early stage, the cancer is localized and limited to the original site of origin. It has not spread extensively to nearby lymph nodes or distant organs. Stage I mesothelioma is often considered resectable, meaning it may be suitable for surgical removal.
  • Stage II: In this stage, the cancer has started to spread beyond the original site and may involve nearby structures or lymph nodes. While the cancer has progressed, it is still potentially treatable with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
  • Stage III: At this advanced stage, the cancer has further spread to nearby structures, organs, and lymph nodes. Surgical intervention may still be considered, but the main goal of treatment is often to manage symptoms and improve quality of life through a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other palliative measures.
  • Stage IV: In this stage, the cancer has metastasized extensively to distant organs and tissues throughout the body. As the most advanced stage of mesothelioma, treatment options are primarily focused on palliative care to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.

Cancer staging is used by your doctor to determine the extent and spread of cancer within the body. It provides critical information that will help determine things like your treatment, the frequency with which you must attend consultations, and your prognosis. It also helps better communicate details about your treatment to nurses and other members of the medical staff.

Mesothelioma Treatment Options

The selection of the most suitable treatment approach depends on factors such as the stage of the disease, the patient’s overall health, where the malignant mesothelioma is located, and whether it has metastasized to other parts of the body.

Unfortunately, mesothelioma has a high mortality rate. In many cases, a combination of treatments is employed to enhance the patient’s quality of life by trying to decrease the painful symptoms associated with the disease. The treatment plan is tailored to each individual to ensure the best possible management of their specific mesothelioma case.

The most common options for treatment include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy

Typically, stage I and II mesotheliomas, along with some exceptions of stage III cases, have the potential to be surgically removed. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

The resectability of the cancer is determined not only by the extent of tumor growth but also by its specific subtype (with epithelioid and mixed/biphasic tumors considered more likely to be resectable), location, and the patient’s overall health and suitability for surgery.

Unfortunately, malignant mesothelioma tends to be an aggressive disease that is often diagnosed at an advanced stage as many individuals may not even be aware of their exposure to asbestos until years or decades later when symptoms manifest, which makes the surgical removal of the cancer in these cases impossible. When this happens, the focus of treatment shifts to controlling the cancer and enhancing the patient’s comfort and quality of life.

Prognostic And Legal Factors To Take Into Account After A Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Mesothelioma is often considered a deadly disease with a poor prognosis due to its low survival rate and its long latency period – meaning that symptoms and diseases may not manifest until years or even decades after the initial exposure.

The long latency periods (10-40 years) associated with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases often mean that by the time symptoms appear, the diseases are already in advanced stages, making effective treatment often impossible.

In the United States, 2,681 new cases of Mesothelioma were reported in 2020 and 2,376 people died of mesothelioma.

Even mesothelioma patients with favorable characteristics (being younger in age or female, for example) face very poor life expectancies. And, unlike most other cancers, even individuals who manage to survive for an extended period do not experience a normal life expectancy.

Prognosis is important for your doctor to determine treatment decisions, manage your expectations as a patient, and provide valuable information to you and your family regarding the potential course of this health condition.

Exposure to asbestos causes most cases of mesothelioma. This and other severe, life-altering, and often incurable diseases are an unfortunate reminder of the significant and persistent health risks associated with asbestos exposure and the importance of implementing necessary precautions against this hazardous substance in work environments and during renovations or demolitions.

For maritime workers, there are numerous laws – including the Jones Act and other maritime regulations – that look to ensure their safety, compensation, and access to legal recourse in case of injuries or injustices.

These laws recognize the unique challenges and risks that maritime workers face due to their occupation and the nature of their work on vessels and offshore installations and aim to protect the rights of seamen, ensuring that they receive fair compensation and treatment for injuries and illnesses sustained while performing their duties.

If you or a loved one developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure, you may be able to seek financial compensation to cover past and future medical expenses, loss of income, pain, and suffering, and other related damages like funeral expenses if the mesothelioma led to the death of your loved one.

While compensation cannot undo the unfortunate harm caused by asbestos exposure, it can provide families with the financial resources they need to support the recovery of their loved ones and move forward.

The cost of mesothelioma treatment (including expenses like chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation) can average between $11,000 and $12,000 per month and the average mesothelioma life expectancy is just 15 months. Initiating a case sooner rather than later is highly advisable. 

At Maritime Injury Guide we are here to help you through these difficult times. Take the first step and fill out our contact form or call us at 866-871-8422 for a FREE legal consultation today.