Mesothelioma: Basics You Need to Know

By Sally Clapper

Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive cancer caused primarily by asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is caused when asbestos is inhaled into the body and forms malignancies on the mesothelial, or protective sac linings, of the lungs, abdomen or heart.

Mesothelioma has three principal types. Pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs, is the most common and accounts for approximately 90% of cases. This type of mesothelioma is usually first recognized by the development of pleural plaques on the lungs. The other two types of mesothelioma are peritoneum, which affects the lining of the abdomen, and pericardium, which affects the lining of the heart. All types of mesothelioma can be either contained to one area or dispersed throughout the body.

Mesothelioma is most common in men. Two thirds of cases are diagnosed until the later stages of life because it can take decades for symptoms of the disease to develop from time of initial exposure.

There are three histological types, or microscopic anatomies, of mesothelioma: epithelial, sarcomatous, and biphasic. Epithelial is the most common, and refers to tumors that have affected the linings of small cavities in the body. There are different types of epithelium depending on the number of layers and shapes of the cells. Sarcomatous are more rare but more aggressive types of tumors that begin from the connective and muscle tissues.

Exposure to asbestos has been clearly established as a main cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral known for its thermal and fire proofing properties, was once widely used in many industrial and construction products. Occupational exposure is the most common; however it can occur environmentally as well.

It is estimated that over 8 million people in the United States have been exposed through the course of employment. Occupations most at risk are construction and railroad workers, naval and automobile mechanics, and ship repair workers. Family members can also be exposed second hand through asbestos being carried home on clothes or the body.

Approximately 2500 - 3000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed per year in the United States alone. Risk of developing the disease is slightly higher for those that live in contaminated area, such as next to large asbestos mines.

Despite research efforts, no cure currently exists. Although some have survived five years with treatment, median life span post diagnosis is usually less than a year. Those with epithelial histology have longer survival rates than those with sarcomatous or biphasic.

Accurate and early diagnosing of the disease is very challenging. Anyone with suspected or known history of asbestos exposure who is experiencing health problems should consult with their doctor immediately. If already diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is essential to find a pulmonary oncologist or occupational medicine specialist that you can build a trusting, comfortable relationship with.

Treating cancer comes with high medical costs. Most patients with mesothelioma have been negligently exposed and are eligible to receive financial compensation. Warnings should have been placed on asbestos containing products and employers should have protected workers, therefore an experienced mesothelioma lawyer can get you monetary help to make up for lost wages and to cover treatments and other associated costs.

Early diagnosis makes all the difference. If you are experiencing any symptoms and have a known or suspected exposure, do not hesitate in seeking medical advice. - 30540

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