Failing to recognise the symptoms of malignant pleural mesothelioma until it’s too late is still devastating the lives of victims and their families. Mesothelioma accounts for just one per cent of all cancers diagnosed and it can still be possible for doctors to diagnose the early symptoms as a more common form of cancer, such as breast cancer. Improved diagnostic techniques, advanced scanning technologies and better asbestos awareness have all helped doctors to positively identify mesothelioma at a much earlier stage.
It is now far better understood that a period of between 15 and 50 years or more may elapse before the first asbestosis symptoms appear, although the average length of time from an original exposure is around 30 to 40 years.
One of the key reasons why the number of deaths resulting from asbestos-related mesothelioma continues to rise is because of the exceptionally long time delay. Exposures which occurred before white asbestos was finally banned at the end of 1999 are expected to drive victim figures until 2030 or even beyond. Many men and women who did not directly work with asbestos were also exposed without even knowing of its existence. Until white asbestos was banned the material could still be used in building or renovation of any public or private property where they worked, most often a school, nursery, hospital, office or factory.
Mesothelioma deaths rose from 2,519 in 2014 to 2,542 in 2015, according the latest available Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures – an increase of more than 10 per cent since 2011.
Actual cause of death discovered to be mesothelioma
Today, more than 30 years after asbestos was first banned in the UK, there are also cases reported where patients are said to have died from an ‘industrial disease’, but it’s only after a coroner’s report that the actual cause of death was discovered to be mesothelioma, resulting from asbestos exposure.
It’s not uncommon for the family of the deceased to be completely confounded by the examination results of a coroner’s report. Naturally, they will be determined to seek answers, and find out how and where exposure to asbestos could have taken place. Pursuing a claim for mesothelioma compensation is never taken lightly, but the need to find justice and closure is always the strongest of family motivations in these actions.
However, there are also cases where an initial misdiagnosis is made because one type of cancer, such as the more common breast cancer, was determined to be the accepted cause while mesothelioma is not suspected. Sometimes, not enough conclusive tests were carried out. In other circumstances, the patient’s work history, which could have indicated possible occupational exposure to asbestos, has not been considered carefully enough.
Common symptoms such as pleural effusion
In one recent typical case, a middle-aged female was found to have a hard lump located in the lowest tissue layers of her right breast. It was initially thought that the three centimetre growth was a typical cancer tumour, which usually forms in the breast area. It was only when a biopsy was performed to directly analyse the cells that the doctors discovered the lump was not breast cancer. Most unusually for mesothelioma, the cancerous cells had spread to the breast tissue itself.
Mesothelioma is also often misdiagnosed as a malignant tumour of the lung because the two conditions are often quite difficult to distinguish. It can also be mistakenly identified as lung cancer, once again, due to common symptoms such as pleural effusion, breathing difficulty, chest pain and coughing. As with a number of serious respiratory conditions, such as influenza or pneumonia, the symptoms of mesothelioma can sometimes be confused.
There were around 55,200 new cases of breast cancer in the UK in 2014, according to Cancer UK compared to 2,215 new cases of mesothelioma assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) during the same period.