Establishing a connection between a possible exposure to asbestos and the subsequent onset of asbestosis disease or fatal mesothelioma cancer is critical to the outcome of a claim for mesothelioma compensation.
Former employers and / or their insurers have often vigorously contested their liability based on a straightforward lack of asbestos awareness of the health risks at the time or denying responsibility for not foreseeing the emergence of asbestos-related disease in the future.
Difficulties in establishing a causal connection have arisen because of the long gestation period between the period of exposure when asbestos fibres were first inhaled and the eventual appearance of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms up to 50 or more years later.
Not only are the first signs of illness, such as shortness of breath, a chronic cough or chest pain similar to a number of other common types of respiratory disease, such as influenza, the difference between mesothelioma and lung cancer can also be confused at first as exposure to asbestos can cause both conditions, even though the two occur in different tissues of the body.
An example of where confusion might occur is the close similarities between mesothelioma cells and cancer cells that affect glandular tissue. There are many different types of mesothelioma according to the characteristics of their individual cell structure and how the subtle changes were caused and their subsequent progression.
It is crucial to recognise that lung cancer affects the lung tissue itself whereas mesothelioma attacks the thin membrane (known as the pleura), which lines the inside of the chest cavity and covers both the lungs and other abdominal organs.
While mesothelioma can actually later affect the lung tissue, the disease always begins in the linings of the chest cavity and can also spread to the surrounding, protective lining of the stomach ( known as peritoneal mesothelioma) or even the heart (pericardial mesothelioma).
The earlier mesothelioma can be diagnosed the better a patient’s survival rate. A key difference between lung cancer and mesothelioma is that the large, multiple tumours of lung cancer usually develop in individually, concentrated masses with clearly defined boundaries, easier for surgical removal and increasing the chances of cure and recovery.
Mesothelioma, however, is an incurable fatal cancer, characterised by tumours not contained in a single mass but dispersed and spreading across the surface of the lining tissue, thus making it extremely difficult to entirely remove. When diagnosed at a very advanced stages, mesothelioma can actually be found to enclose the lung.
While mesothelioma cancer accounts for less than 1 per cent of all cancers diagnosed in the UK, prevalence of the disease has increased almost four-fold since the early 1980s and is forecast to continue to at least 2020.