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Are asbestosis and mesothelioma the same?

Dust diseases can be caused by exposure to particles from years in the past, manifesting as respiratory distress or cancer in cells around major organs. Two of the most prevalent dust diseases in Australia are asbestosis and mesothelioma. Both are caused by exposure to asbestos fibre, which was used for decades in construction and industrial sectors across the country.

If you were exposed to asbestos in your home or at work, even if it was many years ago, and have since been diagnosed with an asbestos-related dust disease, you are likely qualified to receive compensation by making a claim as a dust disease victim.

Diagnosing a dust disease

Diagnosis of dust disease can happen at any age. Symptoms of different types of dust disease are similar to pulmonary fibrosis or certain types of cancer. You’ll need to be examined by a qualified physician who will conduct a detailed medical, work and life history in addition to tests and scans.

You may have asbestosis, mesothelioma or any of a number of other dust diseases, depending on what types of particulates you were exposed to and how much exposure you endured. Once the type of dust disease you have is identified, a prognosis and treatment plan can be developed.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is caused by repeated exposure to and inhalation of asbestos dust. The microscopic asbestos fibres settle in the lung tissue, and may not cause issues for many years. However, eventually asbestos dust in the lungs can cause permanent damage, leading to chronic respiratory problems.

Even if you were working in conditions where you breathed in asbestos fibres for an entire year, the effects may not show up as asbestosis until 20 or 30 years later. Asbestosis is non-malignant, but increases your chances for certain types of lung cancer and mesothelioma significantly.

Mesothelioma

Unlike asbestosis, which generally results from prolonged, repeated exposure, mesothelioma can be caused by exposure just a few times in a small window of time. The tiny asbestos fibres are either inhaled or ingested, often as a result of asbestos disturbance during a home remodel or renovations in a building where you were working. They get trapped in the mesothelial cells surrounding your major organs. Anywhere from 10 to 50 years later, tumors can start to grow and migrate through your body as a fast-moving cancer.

Mesothelioma can originate around the lining of the lungs (causing pleural thickening, a hallmark of pleural mesothelioma) or in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma). Rare cases include damage around the heart or testicles. In all cases in Australia, mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. In some other countries, there have been cases correlated to previous radiation exposure to the chest during medical procedures, but a causal link has not been proven. Therefore, malignant mesothelioma is considered to have one cause, and that is exposure to asbestos.

Where does asbestos exposure come from?

In Australia, asbestos was commercially mined and used heavily in cement materials. Asbestos-containing materials were first manufactured in the 1920s. They were used as a matter of course in residential buildings starting in the mid-1940s. By the mid-1980s, asbestos cement materials were being phased out, and in 2003, a total ban on asbestos was put into force.

Unfortunately, this means that hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to asbestos containing material. Asbestos in stable materials isn’t a danger, but in mining and building, when dust was floating around (or during renovations, when damaged (friable) asbestos materials were being removed) exposure was extremely likely. Homeowners living in houses where asbestos products were used but were never damaged or removed have a much lower risk.

Symptoms and timeline for mesothelioma and asbestosis

Symptoms of asbestosis and mesothelioma often look like other diseases. It’s extremely important to tell your doctor if you know of or suspect asbestos exposure in your lifetime. The timeline and life expectancy for victims of these dust diseases also varies widely.

If you have only pleural plaques or mild lung scarring, you may never develop serious symptoms. However, if you have asbestosis or mesothelioma, your symptoms will be more severe and progress as your disease worsens.

Asbestosis symptoms

Around 15% of asbestosis patients first display the symptoms of respiratory failure and shortness of breath. Within 10 years of initial exposure, all patients are showing some symptoms, although progression may be slow.

If you were exposed to asbestos at any point, and also have one or more of the following symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor:

  • Dry persistent wheezing or coughing
  • Breathing issues or shortness of breath
  • Crackling sounds in the lungs
  • Tightness or pain in the chest
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Loss of appetite followed by weight loss
  • Clubbing of the fingertips and toes (widening and flattening)

If you smoke, you have a greater risk of developing lung cancer or mesothelioma. Quitting is a must to help slow the progression of your asbestosis.

Mesothelioma symptoms

Mesothelioma victims may have a quicker onset of symptoms years later than asbestosis victims. Since mesothelioma is malignant, the symptoms also progress more quickly.

If you were potentially exposed to mesothelioma even if it was only once for a short time and was many, many years in the past, make sure to tell your doctor. If you also have some of the following symptoms, you may be at high risk for mesothelioma:

  • Persistent, ongoing cough
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Bloody mucus coughed up from lungs
  • Swelling of veins in the face or neck
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss / loss of appetite

 

If you smoke, stop immediately. Mesothelioma patients have a shorter life expectancy in general than asbestosis patients, but you can minimize your symptoms as long as possible.

Timeline and survival

Neither asbestosis or mesothelioma are curable.

Asbestosis is not malignant, but if you have asbestosis, you’ll continue to experience symptoms that get worse over time and can eventually result in respiratory failure.

You also may develop lung cancer, pulmonary disease or mesothelioma after being diagnosed with asbestosis. However, many asbestosis patients live for many years with their symptoms controlled by medications and other treatments.

Mesothelioma has a shorter timeline due to the fact that it is a fast-moving cancer once tumors begin to form. The life expectancy post-diagnosis can be as long as several years or as short as a few months, with most patients on the shorter end of the window.

  • Only around 12% of mesothelioma patients survive five years or longer after diagnosis.
  • Only around 40% of mesothelioma patients survive longer than one year after diagnosis

 

This is why it’s so important to seek representation of a dust disease attorney and start an asbestos compensation case as soon as possible. Even if you pass away after your case is begun, your family can still receive compensation and be taken care of.

Getting the dust disease compensation you deserve

There are several kinds of compensation available for asbestos victims. Because manufacturers and employers in most cases knew for years that asbestos was dangerous but did nothing to warn or protect workers or homeowners, you may be able to bring a personal injury, workplace compensation or negligence claim against them.

A common law or civil claim can be brought against an entity responsible for your exposure. Since asbestosis and mesothelioma are caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos, a diagnosis provides most of the grounds needed to begin the claims process.

If your employer no longer exists or you don’t know how or when you were exposed, the Commonwealth and each state and territory have varying legislation and compensation systems for asbestos compensation.

In such cases you can make a statutory claim and a fund pays out an amount based on:

  • Potential shortening of your life due to the asbestos exposure
  • Pain and suffering of yourself and your family
  • Loss of earning potential, income, and superannuation
  • Medical costs (past, present, and future care)
  • Provision for surviving family members

Compensation is typically a lump sum monetary payout but may also include ongoing payments to a victim or a surviving spouse.

It’s recommended that you proceed with filing asbestos-related claims immediately upon diagnosis, especially if you have mesothelioma. If you have asbestosis and a long-term prognosis, you may be asked for additional medical evidence related to living with chronic lung disease caused by exposure to harmful asbestos particles.

If you have received a diagnosis of asbestosis or mesothelioma, don’t delay. Our dust disease lawyers are standing by to help you. Contact us for no-obligation legal advice about your claim.

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Gerard Malouf & Partners
 — Personal Injury Compensation Lawyers

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