But while most of us now know that asbestos exposure can lead to serious and life-threatening health problems, not everyone can name the disease most commonly suffered by people who have been exposed. Here are some of the important facts:
Mesothelioma is an aggressive type of cancer caused by the inhalation of dust fibres found in asbestos. So far, exposure to asbestos particles is the only known risk factor in developing the disease. Inhaled or ingested fibres damage the lining of the lungs and create a cancerous reaction, inflammation and scarring. All types of asbestos (blue, brown and white) can cause mesothelioma, although blue asbestos is the most potent and understood to be about 50 times more potent than white asbestos.
Asbestos is the term used for a group of naturally occurring minerals, mined in Australia and around the world. It was widely used in building and insulation products, being mixed with other materials and found in other products such as A/C sheeting, flues and pipes, gaskets and certain types of flooring. When asbestos is cut, drilled or handled in any way that causes dust, it becomes extremely dangerous. For this reason, you should always register your exposure with your treating doctor immediately.
It affects the mesothelium (sometimes known as the pleura) which is the membrane that lines the lungs, abdominal cavity or heart. It can be hard to diagnose because of its sometimes vague and general first symptoms. Sufferers will often experience difficulty breathing, weight loss, fatigue, fever and pain around the affected area, which can all be symptoms of other illnesses.
Pleural mesothelioma, affecting the lining of the lungs, is the most common type (75%) because of how these particles usually enter the body. But there are other forms we know about: peritoneal, pericardial and testicular.
Sadly, mesothelioma is almost always terminal. If it is found in its early stages, the identified tumour can sometimes be removed, but its propensity to re-emerge is notorious. The average life expectancy from date of diagnosis of mesothelioma is 12-22 months, but it’s important to note that there are wide variations in this. Our Asbestos team have acted for clients who have far outlived their life expectancy after a diagnosis of mesothelioma.
Australia’s high rate of mesothelioma is due mainly to the notorious Wittenoom blue asbestos mine and size of the James Hardie and Wunderlich asbestos building products industry. Although it was well-established that even small exposures could cause the disease in the 1960s, it took until 2003 for it to be asbestos to be outright banned in Australia. New cases of mesothelioma continue to be diagnosed today because of its notoriously slow development process. In Australia, 700 people were diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017 and some 13,000 have been diagnosed since the 1980s. Some estimates suggest that mesothelioma diagnoses will continue to grow until at least 2020.
If you’re worried about asbestos exposure, we have Victoria’s most experienced Asbestos team at Gordon Legal. If you have any questions or concerns, or want to register your exposure with us, get in touch today on (03) 9603 3000 and let us help you