Early Detection of Malignant Mesothelioma

Many people worked at a shipbuilding yard in Tokyo, Japan where they were responsible for a variety of jobs that involved exposure to the fibrous metamorphic mineral group called asbestos. One such man worked on pipes servicing ship engine rooms for more than 35 years; asbestos-laden materials were routinely cut for the purpose of creating pipe insulation, producing an incredibly hazardous work environment.

Asbestos was commonly used as an insulator throughout the twentieth century because of its resistance to heat or fire, its tensile strength and high degree of flexibility. Asbestos insulation has been the cause of a number of asbestos injuries.

In September of 2000, the man's doctor informed him that he had a thickening spot of the pleura (lung cavity). Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelial tissue lining of three of the body's largest cavities; the pleura, the peritoneum (abdominal cavity) and the pericardium (heart sac). Pleural mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the pleura) is the most common type of the disease, accounting for an approximate 75% of all documented cases.

Worried that the thickening spot of the pleura could potentially develop into pleural mesothelioma, the man began to fear for his future and livelihood. He noted that some of his fellow co-workers had contracted malignant mesothelioma and died between 1999 and 2003.

After learning that Japanese machinery maker Kubota Corp. had been implicated in a number of asbestos injury lawsuits, he filed an application with the Tokyo labor office to receive a health management handbook that would entitle him to a free medical exam every six months. This request was denied when the thickening spot on the man's pleura was not found during a later exam.

It is common for diffuse pleural thickening to develop into pleural malignant mesothelioma and natural that the man would want to continue to have the issue checked on a regular basis for the purpose of early detection. Without access to a health management handbook, however, such a plan of attack is not feasible for someone in his position.

This case illustrates a major problem associated with treating malignant mesothelioma. One of the reasons that it is a virtually incurable disease is that it can be difficult to diagnose until it has reached its fully developed stage. Knowing that he had come into continuous contact with asbestos and having been diagnosed with diffuse pleural thickening, the man was prudent in seeking to keep a constant tab on the state of his health so as to ensure that if malignancy did occur, he would be giving himself and his doctors the most options through which to combat the disease.

The man from our story continues to plead with the Minister of health, labor and welfare to further inspect his case and reverse the decision regarding his access to a health management handbook. Whether or not he eventually contracts malignant mesothelioma, his experience is indicative of a greater problem facing the treatment of mesothelioma.

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