What Is Mesothelioma & What Causes It?

More than 2,600 individuals are diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer every year in the UK. Out of this number, the majority of people affected tend to be aged between 60-80, and according to NHS Choices, the cancer is found in a higher number of males than it is for females.

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer which develops in the thin lining (membrane) covering the outer surface of the body’s organs such as the lungs, abdomen or heart.

There are two main types of mesothelioma cancer. Pleural mesothelioma, the more common form, occurs in the outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall. The second type is called peritoneal mesothelioma and targets the abdominal cavity lining.

Pleural mesothelioma

The pleura, as explained by Macmillan Cancer Support, has an inner layer covering the lungs, and an outer layer which lines the rib cage.

The pleura creates a special lubricant fluid which aids in helping you to breathe easily, as well as to support the lungs to move in and out efficiently.

‘When mesothelioma develops in the pleura, the layers of the pleura thicken and press inwards on the lung. Fluid may also collect between the two layers. This is called a pleural effusion.’

How is it caused?

Mesothelioma is caused as a result of the exposure or inhalation of asbestos fibres. The condition is linked with individuals who have perhaps worked in professions in which they have been exposed to asbestos.

However, even those who haven’t directly been working in a job environment causing them to inhale the dust fibres, simply handling the clothes of a person who has been exposed to asbestos can be extremely dangerous.

Shipbuilding, for instance, is an example in which asbestos was used as a solution for insulation onboard ships up until the 1980’s, and which even included ships used in the Armed Forces.

What are other industries may be affected?

Asbestos has, of course, been banned in the UK, yet before its disqualification, asbestos was present in a variety of different professions.

The construction industry is one example in which many individuals may have been put at great risk through the exposure to asbestos. Should materials with asbestos begin to deteriorate, or should they be sanded or drilled, this is when individuals who are working amongst the asbestos fibres which are released into the air could be affected.


Firefighting is another profession which individuals are at risk of inhaling asbestos. Alike construction projects, materials breaking and releasing the harmful substance during fires or emergency situations means that firefighters are also at risk.

Other professions which have previously revealed a high exposure to asbestos include electricians, plumbers, joiners and carpenters.

Diagnosis and Prognosis for mesothelioma

As this type of cancer is fairly infrequent, this can make diagnosing patients who have the condition quite a long and difficult process.

Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma as outlined by Cancer Research UK may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Sweating and high temperatures
  • A chronic cough
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A hoarse or husky voice

Unfortunately, there is currently no known cure for mesothelioma cancer, however, a course of treatments can be used to try and alleviate the symptoms, and even extend the patient’s life.

Surgery could be an option for patients who have been diagnosed early on and involves trying to remove most if not all of the tumour.

Chemotherapy, which is often used alongside surgery works by destroying any remaining cancerous cells.

Radiation therapy is another course of treatment and helps to reduce the size of the tumour, making it easier to remove using surgery.

Lastly, patients may also consider taking part in clinical trials attempting to test new and upcoming courses of treatment. Participation in such trials will be dependent on factors including the patient’s age, the position of the tumour and stage of the cancer.

Making a compensation claim

It’s important to remember that individuals who are suffering from mesothelioma or indeed any asbestos-related disease could be entitled to make an asbestos compensation claim.

Asbestos Advice Helpline offers assistance and support to those who have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease. Their specialist team of solicitors will be able to talk through your options and ensure that you get the right support when making a compensation claim.

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