Asbestos exposure is almost always linked to asbestosis or the more aggressive and fatal mesothelioma. Once the microscopic fibres of asbestos material enter the body and embed themselves in the mesothelium – the membranes which line the chest and abdominal cavities, and cover the lungs, heart and abdomen – they irritate the surrounding cells, causing them to replicate randomly and uncontrollably, and develop into a malignant tumour.

Yet even though approximately 70-80 percent of mesothelioma cases have been definitively traced to asbestos exposure, in the remaining cases, asbestos exposure is often suspected, but not proven.

A key factor is that mesothelioma has an extremely long ‘latency period, i.e. the time between the patient’s first exposure to asbestos and their diagnosis of mesothelioma. Unlike many cancers, which can develop quickly and appear with outward symptoms, a painful reaction, or can be detected through routine screening, mesothelioma can develop silently within the body.

It’s not unusual for the disease to take between 10 and 40 years, or even longer, to be diagnosed. This means that workers who were occupationally exposed to asbestos in the mid-20th Century may only now be learning that they suffer from this type of cancer.

A further problem is that the symptoms of mesothelioma are nonspecific, and may resemble those of other health issues. Some of mesothelioma’s symptoms include a persistent cough, wheezing or shortness of breath, chest or back pain, fatigue and weight loss. Since these can also indicate bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, or COPD, the doctor may misdiagnose the mesothelioma- if the patient consults a doctor at all.

Too often the symptoms are mistaken for a simple chest cold or case of influenza, or even simply considered as part of advancing age, and therefore simply ignored in the hopes that they’ll go away.

By the time mesothelioma is eventually diagnosed correctly, not only has it has often reached the later stages, which means the patient has possibly only weeks or months to live, there could be many difficulties with the issue of claiming mesothelioma compensation.

In some cases, due to the long lapse of time, neither the victim’s employer or insurer can be immediately traced to be brought to court and in other cases, autopsy reports will be required to determine exact causes and whether asbestos exposure led to developing the particular form of cancer.

It is more than unfortunate that the mesothelioma, which can remain latent within the body for half a century or more, claims its victims so soon after their discovery of its presence and either leaves so little time for proper legal address or the burden inevitable passes to the spouse to continue the claim.

It is this for reason alone that any individual who suspects they have been exposed to asbestos at any time in their entire working life, no matter how short a duration, must seek asbestos advice as early as possible. This will help to increase the chance of a successful outcome if a claim is to be brought earlier and settled in or out of court.