Mesothelioma cancer kills more than 3000 Americans each year, a sad reality that is only compounded by the fact that many of those individuals have no idea that they are even at risk. Up to 90% of mesothelioma victims share one common denominator: exposure to a potent carcinogen called asbestos. Yet, it is very possible that exposure went undetected or unnoticed and is also likely to have occurred as many as 50 years prior to diagnosis.
Mesothelioma is unique from most other cancers in that it has a latency period that can stretch across half a century or more. Asbestos exposure sets the stage for its development, but that process is rarely short-lived. After asbestos fibers enter the body and attach to affected organs, they remain indefinitely—causing slow but devastating damage that ultimately results in tumor formation and subsequent cancer.
It may be difficult to understand how a mass the size of a baseball could exist inside the body’s cavities without somehow being detected by its host. But the fact is that symptoms produced by mesothelioma are not often severe until in its late stages.
If the cancer is caught in time, treatments can improve a mesothelioma prognosis and also make the patient more comfortable; but there is no such thing as a cure for mesothelioma.
A solid majority of the individuals afflicted by the disease found themselves exposed to asbestos on the job, though they were not likely to have been aware of it at the time. Construction workers, firefighters and mechanics are among the most commonly affected occupational titles, as all of these fields brought workers into frequent and prolonged contact with asbestos-made materials. Furthermore, people living in homes constructed largely from asbestos unknowingly had a silent killer under their very own roofs (and quite likely even within them).
It is perhaps because of the unassuming nature of mesothelioma cancer that asbestos manufacturers managed to successfully veil its true dangers for the better part of the twentieth century. By the time mesothelioma became a prevalent diagnosis, decades had passed and hundreds more people had been exposed.
It is that negligence that has left asbestos manufacturers facing the legal consequences of what has become a global-scale occupational health crisis, with many folding into bankruptcy under the crushing pressure of litigation and punitive or compensatory damages. Now-defunct corporations are still paying out millions in settlement funds from established trusts, designed to compensate future victims for years yet to come.
The long-term economic effects of mesothelioma cancer—resulting from high medical and legal costs, both to individual victims and society as a whole—are yet to be seen. Experts predict legal settlements alone to ultimately total more than $250 billion. And with thousands of victims being added to its roster annually, mesothelioma shows no sign of disappearing anytime in the near future, despite the near obscurity of asbestos within the American manufacturing industry today.