Monday, August 06, 2007

Our old enemy, Asbestos

Hands up if you know what Mesothelioma is. Okay, give up? Well, perhaps you can help with telling me what the mesothelium is. No? This just isn’t your day.

Well, one of the advantages of writing about things you’ve never heard about is that you learn something. And learning something, as Tony Buzan tells me more than once in a book I’m reading, is what the brain - that incredible instrument - enjoys. So here we go, brain! Try Mesothelioma on for size.

Mesothelioma is a nasty cancer (as if there were any nice ones) that affects the mesothelium. Okay, I know you’re going to tell me you’re none the wiser, but just wait, and I’ll enlighten you. The mesothelium is the protective membrane that surrounds the chest cavity, the abdominal cavity, the cavity around the heart, and the internal reproductive organs. Sounds like a fairly important piece of equipment. I didn’t even know I had a membrane protecting all those bits. One of these days I’m going to do a degree in anatomy and see if I can actually learn what this is that I’m walking around in.

So, what’s Mesothelioma? It’s a form of cancer that’s linked to asbestos exposure. It occurs in the sac lining of the chest (pleural mesothelioma) or abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), or the lining of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma). I presume the sac linings are similar to the membranes. If not, that’s another piece of stuff I carry around.

You wouldn’t think we’d be much affected by asbestos anymore, since it’s been banned as a building material for nearly forty years. But my brother-in-law worked with a man at one time who is now making a mint clearing out asbestos from old buildings. It’s a job that requires more than membranes and sac linings; these guys not only wear full-on protective clothing, but work in specially-made tunnels and other such equipment in order to avoid contact with the asbestos.

So unfortunately there is still a need for Mesothelioma treatments. And the worst thing is that this particular cancer has no effective cure. All that can be done is treat it as other basic cancers are treated - which may not be the best option.

And where there are asbestos victims, there are people to work behind the scenes in dealing with claims for the loss of work and health and so on. Belluck and Fox in New York, for example, is one company that specialises in this issue. They investigate where and when the asbestos caused problems and aim to apportion blame. Not that this much helps the victim, usually, as few people who get Mesothelioma pull through. Still, it will give some degree of compensation to the victim’s family.

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