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What could happen if I am exposed to asbestos?

On Feb. 16, 2017, we discussed the risks railroad workers face when it comes to exposure to asbestos ("Railroad workers: Know your risk for asbestos-related illnesses"). One of the health consequences touched on in that article was the risk of contracting a dangerous and life-threatening illness called mesothelioma. Now, we will explore more about this condition.

First, you need to know that medical researchers have yet to find a cure for mesothelioma. Second, you need answers to the following three questions:

  • What will happen to your body over time?
  • How long do you have to live?
  • How long did other people with your condition live after receiving a diagnosis?

Even knowing the odds, you should not give up hope. Some people do survive for years after their diagnoses.

Mesothelioma comes in three varieties

Part of your chances for survival could depend on the type of mesothelioma you contracted:

  • Pleural mesothelioma: Considered the most common type of the illness (80 to 90 percent of patients), inhaling asbestos fibers causes this type of the illness in the lungs.
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma: Swallowed or inhaled asbestos fibers get trapped in your abdomen in this type.
  • Pericardial mesothelioma: Considered the rarest type of the illness, asbestos fibers get caught in the lining around your heart.

The medical field further categorizes mesothelioma based on where tumors appear in your body (most common) or on the structure of the cancer cells.

How do doctors diagnose the disease?

The problem with properly diagnosing mesothelioma lies in the fact that the symptoms mimic other conditions. The most common symptoms include the following:

  • You might experience unexplained weight loss.
  • Breathing difficulties could indicate damage to your lungs from asbestos fibers.
  • You could suffer from chest pain.
  • Fluid buildup in the lungs could also allude to mesothelioma.
  • Nausea and vomiting occur in some people.
  • Women tend to experience anemia more often than men do.

As you can see, these symptoms could mean anything. You should inform your doctor if you work around asbestos. Doing so might speed up the diagnostic process through imaging tests, blood tests and biopsies. An early diagnosis could increase your chances of survival.

How do doctors treat mesothelioma?

The type of treatment you receive largely depends on how far it has progressed. Caught early enough, the following treatments could extend your life despite the fact that no cure currently exists:

  • Surgery: During stage one or two, removing the tumors remains a viable treatment option. Surgeons might also remove lymph nodes, the mesothelial lining or remove all or part of the affected organ.
  • Chemotherapy: In order to ensure that all cancer cells die, doctors combine chemotherapy with surgery.
  • Radiation therapy: This treatment targets tumors directly to shrink them. Radiation therapy could come before surgery to increase the chances of removing all of the tumor or tumors.

If your diagnosis indicates that your condition already progressed into stage three or four, doctors will more than likely forego these treatments in favor of simply making you comfortable.

Receiving such a grave diagnosis causes fear, anxiety and frustration. You might feel as though your employer failed to protect you from exposure to asbestos. Even years after your exposure, you might receive compensation. If you stopped working for a particular employer years ago, that possibility remains. Despite a grim prognosis, any compensation you might receive could help your family as well.

You might benefit from explaining your situation to an attorney here in New York who understands the risks you take in the railroad industry and who will work diligently and compassionately to get you the compensation you deserve.

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