What Is Mesothelioma?: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors & More
Over 3,000 people are diagnosed with Mesothelioma each year in the United States.
Malignant mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Most individuals are diagnosed between the ages of 50 and 70, although their asbestos exposure could have occurred decades earlier.
What Is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the mesothelium, a thin lining that protects the major organs of the lungs, heart and abdomen. Malignant mesothelioma is an uncommon, but no longer rare, cancer that is difficult to diagnose and poorly responsive to therapy. Malignant mesothelioma is the most serious of all asbestos-related diseases.
A layer of specialized cells called mesothelial cells lines the chest cavity, abdominal cavity, and the cavity around the heart. These cells also cover the outer surface of most internal organs. The tissue formed by these cells is called mesothelium.
The mesothelium helps protect the organs by producing a special lubricating fluid that allows organs to move around. For example, this fluid makes it easier for the lungs to move inside the chest during breathing. The mesothelium of the chest is called the pleura and the mesothelium of the abdomen is known as the peritoneum. The mesothelium of the pericardial cavity (the "sac-like" space around the heart) is called the pericardium.
Tumors of the mesothelium can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). A malignant tumor of the mesothelium is called a malignant mesothelioma. Because most mesothelial tumors are cancerous, malignant mesothelioma is often simply called mesothelioma.
Malignant mesotheliomas are divided into three main types. About 50% to 70% of mesotheliomas are the epithelioid type. This type has the best prognosis (outlook for survival). The other two types are the sarcomatoid type (7%-20%), and the mixed/biphasic type (20%-35%). Treatment options for all three types are the same.
One of the saddest aspects of mesothelioma is that it is largely preventable. Many mesothelioma patients develop the cancer due to negligence of companies that have exposed workers, customers, and others to asbestos. Early, Lucarelli, Sweeney and Meisenkothen have over 40 years of experience helping mesothelioma patients and their families.
A variety of diagnostic tools and procedures are often used by doctors to make a conclusive mesothelioma diagnosis. After an initial physical examination, imaging scans and biopsies are most commonly used to detect whether or not mesothelioma is present. There are three main staging systems used to determine how far mesothelioma has progressed once it has been diagnosed.
There are several different types of mesothelioma that patients can be diagnosed with depending on the area of the body that is affected. Pleural mesothelioma, the most common type, affects the lining of the lungs. Learn about all of the different types of mesothelioma in this section.
There are four stages of mesothelioma. The TNM (Tumor Node Metastasis system) is typically used by doctors to evaluate and stage the progression of a mesothelioma tumor. An early diagnosis of mesothelioma is generally associated with a more favorable prognosis.
The prognosis for a mesothelioma cancer patient is dependent on a number of different factors including type, location and stage. Learn about all of the factors that can influence a patient's prognosis as well as information about mesothelioma survival rates and what is being done to find a cure. While it is true that mesothelioma has claimed the lives of countless thousands of victims, we take heart in some of the amazing survival stories that are shared by those who have successfully battled the disease and are living to tell about it.
Learn about conventional mesothelioma treatment including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy as well as less common therapies. Available treatment options based on the stage that the cancer has progressed to is discussed as well. There are also numerous clinical trials and studies underway that provide promising new and emerging mesothelioma treatment protocols and hope for asbestos cancer patients. Learn about them in this section.
The primary risk for developing mesothelioma is through an exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance that is found across the planet. Asbestos has been used in industries throughout history because of its strength and flexibility, and also its amazing ability to insulate and resist heat. As the link between asbestos and mesothelioma became more apparent, the use of this material has decreased. However, unfortunately up to 8 million Americans may already have been exposed to asbestos.
Asbestos use was prevalent in a number of industries until the late 70’s. As a result, many workers were exposed to asbestos on the job and, sadly, developed mesothelioma. Some of the occupations most at risk for asbestos exposure include shipyard workers, construction workers, firefighters, power plant workers and those serving in the US Navy.
Asbestos was used in a wide range of products in the 20th century. It was commonly found in construction materials, automotive products, sealants, gaskets, adhesives, flooring tiles, boilers, pipe insulation and more. Asbestos exposure has been linked to mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects thousands of people each year.
The list of companies that manufactured asbestos and asbestos-containing products is extensive. These companies were aware of the risks associated with asbestos exposure and knowingly put millions of people at risk for developing mesothelioma over the course of many decades.
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