Asbestos, Mesothelioma & Lung Cancer

An understanding of asbestos is necessary before we try to understand mesothelioma lung cancer. Asbestos, a natural fibrous mineral, used commonly in construction process and manufacturing industries is detrimental to human health. Continuous inhalation of its fibers enhances the susceptibility to respiratory disorders and can lead to many dangerous diseases. A leading example of such dangerous disease is Mesothelioma lung cancer. Actually, mesothelioma lung cancer is misnomer because mesothelioma cancers affect the lining of lungs (pleura) and abdomen and not the lungs. Since mesothelioma cancers mostly affect the lining of the lungs, it is generally called mesothelioma lung cancer. The workers who had worked in industries such as shipbuilding, asbestos mining, and asbestos production are vulnerable to mesothelioma cancers.

Mesothelioma and the Role of Carcinogens

What is mesothelioma cancer and how does the lining of the lung become cancerous? Cancer is a tumor that is malignant in nature. Tumor is formed when there is abnormal cell division and cell multiplication in the cancerous cells. Exposure to carcinogens or cancer-causing material like cigarette smoke, asbestos and silica dust is instrumental in this abnormal cell division and formation of tumor.

Mesothelioma cancer is directly linked to asbestos exposure. However, those already exposed to asbestos have a greater chance of developing lung cancer if they are exposed to other carcinogens such as cigarette smoke. A study reports that the workers with a history of asbestos exposure and cigarette smoke are more prone to lung cancer than the non-smokers and those with no history of asbestos exposure.

Complications Associated with Mesothelioma Cancer

Normally, the latency stage for asbestos-related diseases in general and mesothelioma cancers of the lining of lung in particular, 20-50 years, which makes detection of Mesothelioma a complicated issue. This situation is further aggravated particularly where the worker is also addicted to cigarette smoking. By the time, the disease shows its symptoms, a considerable exposure to additional carcinogens linked to cigarette smoking has already taken place. This makes a worker more vulnerable to lung cancer besides the vulnerability to mesothelioma cancers.

Mesothelioma Cancers and Legal Redress from Asbestos Exposure

The Government is conscious of the ill effects of asbestos exposure and the seriousness of mesothelioma cancer. The employees working in factories with significant risk of asbestos exposure are eligible for Mesothelioma compensation, if the exposure is the cause of Mesothelioma. There has been a spate of lawsuits for seeking compensation for mesothelioma and lung cancers. In many cases, the courts have awarded heavy sums as compensation against the asbestos manufacturing companies.

Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. People who work in occupations involving the mining, milling, manufacturing, and use of asbestos and its products are more likely to get lung cancer than the general population. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and a change in breathing.

Other symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent chest pain, hoarseness, and anemia. People who develop these symptoms do not necessarily have lung cancer, but should consult a physician for advice. People who have been exposed to asbestos and are also exposed to some other cancer-causing product, such as cigarette smoke, have a greater risk of developing lung cancer than people who have been exposed only to asbestos.  If you have been exposed to asbestos and need an asbestos lawyer, you should seek one immediately who has significant experience with asbestos litigation.

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What is Interstitial Lung Disease?

Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) is a general term that includes a variety of chronic lung disorders. When a person has ILD, the lung is affected in three ways. First, the lung tissue is damaged in some known or unknown way. Second, the walls of the air sacs in the lung become inflamed. Finally, scarring (or fibrosis) begins in the interstitium (or tissue between the air sacs), and the lung becomes stiff.

Breathlessness during exercise can be one of the first symptoms of these diseases. A dry cough also may be present. These are common symptoms that many people ignore. Someone with these symptoms may wait until they feel quite ill before going to the doctor.

People with different types of ILD may have the same kind of symptoms but their symptoms may vary in severity. Their chest X-rays may look alike. Further testing is usually recommended to identify the specific type of ILD a person has. Some ILDs have known causes and some (idiopathic) have unknown causes.

Why is it called interstitial lung disease?

The tissue between the air sacs of the lungs is called the interstitium. Interstitial lung disease is named after this tissue because this is the tissue affected by fibrosis (scarring). Interstitial lung disease is sometimes also known as “interstitial pulmonary fibrosis.” The terms interstitial lung disease, pulmonary fibrosis and interstitial pulmonary fibrosis are often used to describe the same condition.

Interstitial lung diseases are puzzling

The course of these diseases is unpredictable. If they progress, the lung tissue thickens and becomes stiff. The work of breathing then becomes more difficult and demanding. Some of the diseases improve with medication if treated when inflammation occurs. Some people may need oxygen therapy as part of their treatment.

The diseases may run a gradual course or a rapid course. People with ILD may notice variations in symptoms — from very mild to moderate to very severe. Their condition may remain the same for long periods of time or it may change quickly. It’s important to stay in touch with your doctor and report any changes in symptoms. You and your doctor can work together to manage ILD.

Common link in interstitial lung disease

While the progress and symptoms of these diseases may vary from person to person, there is one common link between the many forms of ILD. They all begin with an inflammation. The inflammation may affect different parts of the lung, as explained below:

1. The walls of the bronchioles (small airways). When inflammation involves the bronchioles, it is called bronchiolitis.

2. The walls and air spaces of the aveoli (air sacs). When inflammation involves the alveoli, it is called aveolitis.

3. The small blood vessels (capillaries) of the lungs. When inflammation involves the small blood vessels, it is called vasculitis.

Inflammation of these parts of the lung may heal or may lead to permanent scarring of the lung tissue. When scarring of the lung tissue takes place, the condition is called pulmonary fibrosis.

Fibrosis, or scarring of the lung tissue, results in permanent loss of that tissue’s ability to transport oxygen. The level of disability that a person experiences depends on the amount of scarring of the tissue. This is because the air sacs, as well as the lung tissue between and surrounding the air sacs, and the lung capillaries, are destroyed by the formation of scar tissue. If this happens, your doctor may prescribe oxygen to help you breathe easier.

IDIOPATHIC PULMONARY FIBROSIS

When all known causes of interstitial lung disease have been ruled out, the condition is called “idiopathic” (of unknown origin) pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

There are several theories as to what may cause IPF; including viral illness and allergic or environmental exposure (including tobacco smoke). These theories are still being researched. Bacteria and other microorganisms are not thought to be the cause of IPF.

There is also a familial form of the disease, known as familial idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Additional research is being done to determine whether there is a genetic tendency to develop the disease, as well as to determine other causes of IPF.

What are the symptoms of IPF?

Shortness of breath is the main symptom of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Since this is a symptom of many types of lung disease, making the correct diagnosis may be difficult. The shortness of breath may first appear during exercise. The condition then may progress to the point where any exertion is impossible. If the disease progresses, the person with IPF eventually may be short of breath even at rest.

Other symptoms may include a dry cough (without sputum). When the disease is severe and prolonged, heart failure with swelling of the legs may occur.

How is IPF diagnosed?

A very careful patient history is an important tool for diagnosis. The history will include environmental and occupational factors, hobbies, legal and illegal drug use, arthritis, and risk factors for diseases that affect the immune system. A physical examination, chest X-ray, pulmonary function tests, and blood tests are important. These tests will help your doctor rule out other lung diseases and determine the extent of disease.

Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) — a test which permits removal and examination of cells from the lower respiratory tract — may be used to diagnose IPF: this test helps a doctor identify inflammation in lung tissue, and also helps exclude infections and malignancies (cancer) as a cause of a patient’s symptoms. The test is done during bronchoscopy, a special examination of the lung.

Lung biopsy — Either done during bronchoscopy or as a surgical procedure that removes a sample of lung tissue for your doctor to study — this procedure is usually required for diagnosis of IPF.

What is the treatment for IPF?

Corticosteroids may be administered to treat the inflammation present in some people with IPF. The success of this treatment for many forms of pulmonary fibrosis is variable and is still being researched. Other drugs are occasionally added when it is clear that the steroids are not effective in reversing the disease.

Some doctors may use corticosteroids in combination with other drugs when the diagnosis is first established. Which drug treatment plan is effective, and how long to use the drugs is the focus of current research.

Oxygen therapy may be prescribed for some people with IPF. The need for oxygen will be determined by your doctor and may depend on the severity of disease, as well as your activity level. Talk with you doctor if you think you may need oxygen or if you have concerns about oxygen.

Influenza vaccine and pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine are both recommended for people with IPF or any lung disease. These two shots may help prevent infection and keep you healthy.

Lung transplantation may offer hope for select people with severe IPF and other lung diseases. Speak with your doctor about eligibility criteria for lung transplant recipients.

Rehabilitation and education programs may help some people with IPF. Local support groups have been of benefit for people with IPF and their family members and friends.

How can you protect your lungs and prevent lung disease?

Controlling and preventing lung disease needs everyone’s attention. Learn to recognize the symptoms of lung disease, such as those described here. If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor as soon as possible.

You, your family members and friends need to protect your lungs.

Here’s how:

Don’t smoke. Quitting smoking is the best protection you can give your lungs and reduces your risk of lung disease. Your local American Lung Association can help.

Be honest. Understand that chronic cough, shortness of breath and other lung symptoms are not normal.

Take action. Bring any lung disease symptom to a doctor’s attention early. Then follow the doctor’s advice.

Avoid lung hazards. Secondhand cigarette smoke, air pollution, and lung hazards at work can cause lung disease.

Think about prevention. Lung disease like influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia can be prevented with vaccination. Get immunized if you are in a high-risk group, which includes people 50 and over or anyone with a chronic health problem such as lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes.

Remember, early detection of lung disease is the key to prompt and successful treatment.

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