Despite a three year period allowed for entering a claim for mesothelioma compensation, delay can often occur until a confirmed diagnosis then reveals the disease has spread to an advanced stage. There are a number of reasons for not recognising the appearance of the first signs of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms.
Most often there is a long gestation period of up to 50 years from the initial period of exposure and a connection is not readily made, even though the victim may recall the circumstances of working with or surrounded by asbestos material at their place of work.
Lack of asbestos awareness to the deadly health risks was not only prevalent at the workplace during the peak years of asbestos use in UK industry but 'secondary exposure' could occur to wives and close family at home when washing their husband, brother or uncle's work clothes containing the fibre dust.
Another common reason for failure to correctly identify shortness of breath, a chronic cough or chest pain as likely first signs of mesotheliomaor anasbestosis-related condition is because they are strikingly similar to a number of other common types of respiratory disease, such as influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia, etc.
Crucially, the difference between mesothelioma and lung cancer can also be confused at first as exposure to asbestos can cause both conditions, even though the two occur in different tissues of the body. While lung cancer is a disease which affects just the lung tissue, mesothelioma attacks the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen, and is only caused by the breathing in of airborne, asbestos dust fibres.
Despite mesothelioma cancer being responsible for less than 1 per cent of all cancers diagnosed in the UK, prevalence of the disease has increased almost four-fold since the 1980s, when the first and most lethal types of asbestos had only just begun to be banned.
Another significant reason for a delay in seeking asbestos advice is often due to attributing the onset of breathing difficulties and bouts of coughing to a lifelong smoking habit. Cigarette/ tobacco smoking was particularly prevalent in the heavy industries of shipbuilding, railway engineering, auto assembly and manufacturing throughout much of the twentieth century, alongside the widespread use of asbestos.
An added complication is the effect smoking and asbestos exposure can have upon the risk of lung cancer mortality for asbestos workers. In 2011, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published a report, which provided figures for the period, 1971 to 2005, the year that white asbestos chrysotile was finally banned from use, despite importation being stopped six years earlier.
The HSE report revealed that " of the 1,878 lung cancer deaths among the 98,912 UK workers surveyed who were exposed to asbestos, just 2 per cent of lung cancer deaths occurred to those individuals who had never smoked".
Further figures show that of those employees who worked with asbestos and who also smoked, an estimated 3 per cent of lung cancer deaths were attributable to asbestos only, 66 per cent to smoking only, and 28 per cent to the interaction of asbestos and smoking.
A separate study of smoking and exposure to chrysotile ( white) asbestos also found that there was a three and a half times risk at least of lung cancer from smoking in those working with high asbestos exposure to asbestos cement, insulation, friction or textile products in contrast to those working with low asbestos exposure.
Generally, survival rates of around five years for lung cancer patients are higher at 15 and 75 percent, while mesothelioma patients are considerably lower at 10 per cent with only a 4 to 18 months prognosis.
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