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Mesothelioma: myths, misconceptions and fact

by Sharine Burgess

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Despite sterling work by charities such as Mesothelioma UK and the fact that the condition was given some television exposure in 2014 when a character suffered from mesothelioma in the soap Emmerdale, continuing awareness of mesothelioma remains essential.

Mesothelioma and exposure to asbestos FAQsContrary to popular belief, asbestos related disease including mesothelioma are not diseases of the industrial past and are still very much a clear and present danger.

Here are some of the questions and misconceptions we’ve come across over the years:

What causes mesothelioma?

It’s true that mesothelioma can be caused by several things, but the definite causal link between mesothelioma and asbestos has been established for many years. About 8 out of 10 people with mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos.

If asbestos exposure is ‘low level’ it’s safe

There is no ‘safe low level’ of exposure to asbestos. Many employers tried to defend mesothelioma and asbestos clams citing the limit set out in a Technical Data Note (TDN13) issued by the Factory Inspectorate in 1970. However, TDN13 was never intended to confirm a ‘safe’ level of exposure to asbestos. A Court of Appeal decision in April 2018 confirmed this and indeed anyone who previously was advised not to proceed with a claim because there was “low level” exposure could reconsider making a claim due to the change in the law although specialist legal advice should be sought straightaway.

Only people who worked in heavy industries are at risk

The number of cases due to historic exposure to asbestos in old heavy industries is expected to peak within the next decade, but secondary exposure will continue to be significant. Many more recent secondary exposure cases involve people who did not work or come into contact with asbestos directly but were close to others who did. Wives who may have been exposed washing their husband’s contaminated overalls, those living near to factories or, more tragically, children who were hugged by their father while he was still wearing contaminated work clothes or had their clothes washed along with his.

It’s too late to make a claim

There is a three year time limit on making a mesothelioma claim – this runs typically from the date you were first diagnosed with mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure but it could be earlier if you have made a connection between your symptoms and what caused them. Note that doesn’t mean three years from the date of the initial asbestos exposure, which could have occurred many years ago. If the person who contracted mesothelioma dies within three years of being diagnosed, the remaining family can commence the claim up to three years from the date of death. Ideally though you shouldn’t delay speaking to a specialist lawyer and making a claim as a soon as a diagnosis is confirmed.

My old firm has gone out of business, so it is pointless making a claim

Not true. Even if the employer responsible for your initial asbestos exposure has gone out of business or their insurer at the time can no longer be traced, a specialist law firm may be able to trace an employer or insurer. It is possible to ‘legally resurrect’ a defunct firm for the purposes of making a mesothelioma claim.

Why is mesothelioma so difficult to diagnose?

Mesothelioma is challenging to diagnose, even for highly qualified oncologists, and does not always show up on a chest X-ray. Because of the long latency period – sometimes as much as 50 or 60 years after initial exposure - symptoms rarely appear until the disease has entered its later advanced stages. Even then the symptoms are hard to distinguish from the signs of more common respiratory illnesses. Researchers have begun to make progress towards earlier diagnosis of mesothelioma using blood tests which look for indicators of the disease known as biomarkers, but further research is needed to confirm the promise of such early diagnosis techniques.

What are symptoms of mesothelioma?

The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma can be confused with minor ailments or symptoms of COPD and many people don’t immediately make the connection between their illness and work they did, sometimes decades ago. The symptoms of mesothelioma can include pain in the side of the chest or lower back, shortness of breath or a persistent cough, fever and excessive sweating, fatigue and weight loss and sometimes difficulty swallowing and hoarseness.

Is there a cure for mesothelioma?

Various clinical trials for emerging treatments such as gene therapy and immunotherapy, experimental drug regimes and mesothelioma vaccines as well as improved diagnostic tests have shown promise. Realistically though we are many years away from a cure, but we have been able to extend life expectancies longer than ever before.

I can only get NHS treatment if I claim

If a reputable medical practitioner recommends a course of treatment, the expense of undergoing that treatment privately may be recovered if a claim for compensation is pursued if there is a clear medical benefit from any proposed treatment. There is no obligation for you to take the cheapest (usually NHS) option and some treatments might not be available to you on the NHS.

What benefits am I entitled to?

Mesothelioma victims are entitled to help if the cancer was contracted at work in the UK. If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma you may be entitled to a number of benefits including Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) or a lump sum payment. In addition, you may be entitled to claim other state benefits such as Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment if you need assistance with personal care or getting around. There are also benefits which can be claimed for carers looking after someone with an asbestos related illness.

Mesothelioma help available

For more information and help available please contact us today on freephone 03700 863423 for a free no obligation initial consultation and ask to speak to Sharine Burgess, senior associate at Shoosmiths a specialist serious injury and illness claims.

Sharine Burgess

Pictured above: Sharine Burgess, a senior associate with Shoosmiths specialising in serious injury and illness claims.

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