12 Common Misconceptions About Mesothelioma

Prior to the 1950s, mesothelioma was considered a rare type of cancer, with its rise in cases being fairly recent. Mesothelioma cases grew in the 20th century when asbestos became the choice insulator for its fire and heat resistant properties from the early 1900s until the 1970s. It was only then that the knowledge of the harm it can cause became widely known to the general public. Mesothelioma can take 10-50 years to develop after exposure, which is why we are now seeing a jump in cases in the past few decades.

Mesothelioma is still being studied, and because of that, there are a lot of misconceptions and myths floating around about it. We want to clear up these common misconceptions and provide you with the truth so that you can be well informed with the most accurate information about mesothelioma.

Myth 1: Mesothelioma Cases Are Declining Now That Asbestos Use is Regulated

Most uses for asbestos were banned in the mid-1970s, but asbestos is still allowed to be used for certain purposes in various products. For example, it's still widely used in the chemical industry and it still exists in many old buildings, factories,  railway lines, ships, etc.  This fact combined with  mesothelioma's latency period of 10-50 years means that mesothelioma cases are actually on the rise and we still have yet to see how many lives will be affected long-term. Michigan, being the home of the automobile industry, consequentially became one of the most industrialized states in the nation.  As a result, Michigan has a much higher proportionate share of mesothelioma cases in the U.S. There are an estimated 20 million people just in the United States who are assumed to be at risk of developing mesothelioma because of asbestos exposure.

Myth 2: Men Over 65 Are the Only Ones Diagnosed with Mesothelioma

Nearly 80% of mesothelioma cases that are diagnosed are men in their late 60s to 70s, but anyone who has been exposed to asbestos is at risk. The reason that men in their 60s and 70s are the large majority of cases largely has to do with the fact that it was primarily men that worked in environments (trades, military, etc) where asbestos was prevalent during the 20th century. They had the highest level of exposure, while their families were at risk for secondary exposure. Interestingly, in Michigan, Serling & Abramson has had several clients who developed mesothelioma in their 30’s due to childhood exposure to asbestos.  One client in particular is still alive over 20 years later, perhaps the longest surviving mesothelioma victim in the U.S.

Myth 3: Mesothelioma Can Be Caused By Smoking

Most all medical experts in Michigan and around the country agree that cigarette smoking has no known scientifically established connection to the development of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos.  While mesothelioma is not caused by cigarette smoking, if a mesothelioma patient smokes, this may reduce the effectiveness of their cancer treatment and can increase the risk of heart and lung complications.

Myth 4: Mesothelioma is Lung Cancer

Pleural mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the lungs) is the closest in resemblance to lung cancer, but it is not lung cancer. This type of mesothelioma forms in the pleura, a protective membrane between your lungs and your chest wall. It has the ability to metastasize to the lungs, but it doesn't form there, which rules it out of being considered lung cancer.

Myth 5: Mesothelioma is Contagious or Hereditary

Mesothelioma is not contagious and cannot be passed from one person to another. It is scientifically proven to be a direct result of personal exposure to asbestos fibers and is not hereditary or contagious. Therefore, you don't need to worry about passing it on to others if you have mesothelioma or that patients with mesothelioma will pass it on to you as a family member.  However, those who are not directly exposed can still be at risk if they live (or lived) with someone who brought  home asbestos fibers on their clothing or personal effects  (more on secondary exposure below). In Michigan, Serling & Abramson has represented many spouses or children of tradesmen who were exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma through the washing of the family member’s work clothes.

Myth 6: Mesothelioma Only Affects the Lungs

While the most common type of mesothelioma (pleural mesothelioma) affects the lungs, there are other types of mesothelioma that don't originate near the lungs. Your abdomen, heart, testicles, and other organs can have different types of mesothelioma.

Myth 7: Only People Who Work Directly with Asbestos Are at Risk of Developing Mesothelioma

While occupational exposure to asbestos is the most common way to develop mesothelioma, there are other ways as well. For example, if you live near an asbestos mine, asbestos processing plant, or were near a site that released a lot of asbestos into the air (9/11 is a perfect example of this, where many tons of asbestos were released when the towers collapsed). These instances are known as environmental exposure to asbestos.  Our office was proud to do pro bono representation of two families of 9/11 victims caused by the attacks and not related to asbestos       

As we mentioned before, if you lived with someone who worked with asbestos, they likely brought the asbestos fibers home on their clothing, personal effects, in their cars, on their shoes, hair, and skin, and you could have been exposed.  These instances are known as secondary or household exposures to asbestos.

Finally, if you've used certain beauty, cosmetic, or household products that contain or contained asbestos, such as talcum powder, you could also be at risk of developing mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease.

Myth 8: The Larger the Amount of Asbestos You're Exposed to, the More Likely You Are to Have Mesothelioma

The quantity of asbestos you are exposed to has no proven correlation with your risk of developing mesothelioma. In fact, Serling & Abramson has represented victims of mesothelioma who have had very minimal exposure over a short period of time.  Even washing someone's laundry that has asbestos fibers on it poses  the same amount of risk. The main variable is whether asbestos fibers entered your body and were lodged in the mesothelium, causing cellular mutation.

Myth 9: Asbestos is Banned Throughout the United States

Unfortunately, this is not true. While many politicians and activist groups have tried to get asbestos banned, only the state of New Jersey (as of June 2019) has banned the sale and use of asbestos products. Michigan has not yet enacted similar legislation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only has certain restrictions for its use in place.

Myth 10: Companies That Sold Asbestos Didn't Know of its Dangers

Maybe some, but most companies knew of the dangers (and still know of the dangers) and continued to sell it. Some even went so far as to hide information relating to the dangers of asbestos so that they could continue to make money for decades. They put millions of lives at risk in favor of corporate profit. Some of the evidence that Serling & Abramson has collected representing asbestos victims since 1975 has shown company knowledge of the hazards of exposure to asbestos going back to the 1920’s and 1930’s. Read some of the correspondence between asbestos manufacturers here. 

Myth 11: Mesothelioma Lawsuits Are Expensive for the Patient and Their Family

Only the companies responsible for your mesothelioma will feel the pain of expense. Victims shouldn't need to pay upfront costs or high amounts to receive representation. If the case is won on their behalf, they should receive compensation that makes the legal process worth it and will help them financially for many years to come.  Serling & Abramson handles mesothelioma cases on a contingency fee basis.  This means that the law firm only receives a percentage if we collect for our clients. . If there is no compensation,  then the firm wouldn't receive any fee for its services.  Under Michigan law, costs of litigation are subtracted from the recovery before the contingency fee is applied, which benefits clients by increasing their recovery. Some other states allow for deducting the costs out of the plaintiff’s contingent share, which decreases the net to the client.

Myth 12: If You Wore a Mask Around Asbestos, You're Safe From Developing Mesothelioma

Unfortunately, not all masks or respirators can completely protect you from asbestos exposure. Even respirators fitted with HEPA filters specifically designed against asbestos can fail if they don't fit properly. There's also the risk of exposure to you and the people you live with from fibers that cling to your clothing and skin.

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