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Health & Wellness // July 13, 2016 MAAC Staff

5 Myths and Misconceptions about Mesothelioma

Because mesothelioma is such a rare disease, it can sometimes be difficult to find accurate and reliable information about it. In a lot of cases, people are simply ignorant about the disease; other times, people might misunderstand a fact or statistic related to the disease, and it can be hard to convince them of the reality behind it.

One of our goals at the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center is to dispel these misconceptions and provide awareness about mesothelioma to anyone who is seeking information about this deadly disease. With that goal in mind, we have identified 5 common myths and misconceptions about mesothelioma and are providing some more context around the real answers.

Myth 1: Mesothelioma is an “old man’s disease”

While it is true that, in the United States, mesothelioma affects older men in greater proportion than other demographics. One of the reasons for this is that mesothelioma takes many years – often decades – to form after the initial asbestos exposure. This exposure often occurs in industrial job sites like factories, mines, or shipyards, which are predominantly dominated by men.

However, the idea that mesothelioma is simply an “old man’s disease” is completely untrue.

In fact, in recent years, there has been a growing number of cases of mesothelioma discovered in younger people – especially young women. Many of these women had fathers who worked in those industrial jobs mentioned above, and those fathers would carry home asbestos dust on their clothing, exposing their children to the dangerous substance.

Asbestos can also affect young people in other ways as well. Most buildings built before and into the 1980s contain some form of asbestos, meaning that children, teens, and young adults can be exposed at home, school, or other buildings where they may visit. Asbestos also occurs naturally in some areas, and it can affect the children who live there.

Finally, outside of the U.S., asbestos is still used in many developing nations where child labor laws and other regulations can easily expose young people to asbestos on a daily basis.

Myth 2: Mesothelioma isn’t really a rare disease

One of the stranger claims that people have made about mesothelioma is that it is not really a rare disease. This misconception is often repeated by those who may have seen late-night television commercials or other advertisements for mesothelioma, with the belief that such commercials and advertisements would only be aired if it affected a lot of people.

Some of the confusion lies in the definition of what a rare disease is. According to the Rare Disease Day website, a rare disease has different definitions in Europe and the United States:

  • Europe: A rare disease (or disorder) affects fewer than 1 in 2,000 people.
  • United States: A rare disease (or disorder) affects fewer than 200,000 Americans at any given time.

Under either definition, then, mesothelioma is definitely a rare disease. About 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are discovered in the U.S. each year, and of those only about 5 – 10 percent live beyond five years, making it nearly statistically impossible for the number of American mesothelioma survivors to ever reach that 200,000 mark.

Myth 3: Only long-term asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma

Some people who are aware of mesothelioma and its ties to asbestos exposure believe that such exposure needs to take place over a long period of time in order for mesothelioma to develop. These folks may be confusing the long latency period of mesothelioma, and the difficulty of properly diagnosing mesothelioma, with the initial act of asbestos exposure that caused the disease; however, it is important to note that the two events are very different.

In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated in no uncertain terms that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. This statement is not just the agency’s own assessment, but comes from multiple medical and scientific studies that have shown the danger that asbestos poses to the human body.

Even though not all asbestos exposure necessarily leads to mesothelioma, there is still a strong correlation between the two. Eliminating, or at least minimizing, exposure to asbestos is the single-most effective thing a person can do to reduce the risk of developing the disease.

Myth 4: Mesothelioma only affects the lungs

Pleural mesothelioma, the type of mesothelioma that is found in the lining of the lungs, is the most common form of the disease, estimated to account for 75 percent of all cases. However, there are other types of mesothelioma as well.

The second-most common type of mesothelioma is peritoneal mesothelioma, which develops in the linings of the abdomen. Researchers believe that peritoneal mesothelioma develops when inhaled or swallowed asbestos travels through the lymphatic system or by some other method into the abdominal cavity.

Much rarer is pericardial mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the heart. This type accounts for less than 1% of all mesothelioma cases.

Even rarer than the types above are other forms of mesothelioma, including testicular mesothelioma (men) and well-differentiated papillary mesothelioma (women). The mechanisms by which these forms of mesothelioma develop are not well understood, and they are extremely uncommon, accounting for only a handful of cases of the disease.

Myth 5: Mesothelioma victims can get millions of dollars with little effort

Although a number of companies that produced asbestos or asbestos-containing products have admitted to their liability in exposing employees, customers, and others to the deadly substance, there is no guarantee that mesothelioma victims will receive compensation for their medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

For one thing, it is often difficult to determine where someone may have been exposed to asbestos. Because asbestos has been used in so many products and construction materials for over a century, finding a link between a particular exposure and the development of the disease can be very hard to do.

Even when the exposure to asbestos is known to have been caused by a particular company’s product or job site, that may not be enough to receive compensation. Many asbestos companies have gone out of business or gone bankrupt, and while some of those companies were required to set up asbestos trusts to pay future victims, many of those trusts have been depleted of funds to the point where victims can expect to receive only a small fraction of what they may be owed – if they get anything at all.

Assuming that exposure can be identified appropriately, and the liable company has enough money to afford to pay compensation, mesothelioma victims have to go through an often lengthy legal battle – usually at the same time as they are undergoing treatments and generally in very poor health.

But perhaps most importantly, many mesothelioma victims die before they are able to seek compensation. Although their families may be able to pursue legal action after the fact, that is very little consolation for the loss of a loved one.

Share These Facts with Others

Now that you know the truth behind these myths and misconceptions, you can share the truth with others! Raising awareness about this deadly disease is the best way to combat it and, hopefully, one day find a cure.