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What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer usually caused by exposure to asbestos. Although asbestos can cause a number of other serious illnesses—including lung cancer and asbestosis—mesothelioma is the most common cancer associated with asbestos exposure.

When asbestos fibers are inhaled or otherwise ingested, they can become lodged in the mesothelium, the lining that surrounds and protects the body’s internal organs. These asbestos fibers can cause cells to grow at abnormal rates, causing them to damage nearby tissue and leading to a mesothelioma diagnosis.

There are three different main types of mesothelioma, depending on where asbestos fibers become lodged in the mesothelium: pericardial mesothelioma (the lining of the heart), peritoneal mesothelioma (the lining of the abdomen) and pleural mesothelioma (the lining of the lungs and chest cavity).

The symptoms of mesothelioma may take up to 50 years after exposure has occurred before appearing. Although they vary depending on the specific type of the disease that is diagnosed, common mesothelioma symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, weight loss, abdominal pain and swelling, bowel obstruction, weight loss or other symptoms. Because these symptoms may be associated with other conditions, only a doctor can make a positive mesothelioma diagnosis.

The most common cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. About 90% of all mesothelioma cases occur among individuals who were exposed to asbestos. Because the risk of contracting mesothelioma increases the longer a person is exposed to asbestos fibers, workers whose jobs bring them into regular contact with asbestos fibers or asbestos-containing products are at the highest risk for developing the disease.

Many workers who were diagnosed with mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos have filed mesothelioma lawsuits against their former employers. These asbestos lawsuits have alleged that companies knew the dangers of asbestos exposure, but failed to use safer materials or take steps to protect workers from the dangers of exposure to asbestos.

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