What is Mesothelioma?

Doctor Reviewing X-rays. Doctor explaining diagnosis to his female senior patient.

If you’re like most people, it’s likely that you’ve heard “mesothelioma” only on daytime TV commercials and the occasional radio advertisement about legal help.

That’s okay. What many people don’t realize is that there is so much more to the dangerous cancer than just legal issues. The deadly disease affects an estimated 3,000 people every year.

The Cause of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma cancer is an aggressive cancer directly linked to asbestos exposure. Most commonly, it is associated with a prolonged history of working with the deadly mineral.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance with lethal effects. Used for its versatility and its high heat resistance, the compound was added to a variety of products, including construction materials, household goods, fireproofing, machinery and automobile parts.

As a result, the occupations at the highest risk for occupational exposure are shipyard workers, power plant workers, industrial workers, firefighters and construction workers. People in these industries may be more prone to developing mesothelioma.

While the deadly substance is undisturbed behind walls or on pipes, it may not be dangerous. The real problem arises when the substance is damaged because microscopic asbestos fibers become airborne and inhaled or ingested by people in the area.

After they enter the body, the fibers can become lodged in the lining of the lungs or the abdomen, eventually causing scarring and mesothelioma.

Types of Mesothelioma

There are four main types of mesothelioma: Pleural, peritoneal, pericardial and testicular. Named after the part of the body tumors are found, understanding which type you have can make a huge difference when it comes to treatment.

The most common type of mesothelioma is pleural, which is found in the lining of the lungs. Resulting from inhaling deadly asbestos fibers, pleural mesothelioma makes up approximately 75 percent of cases.

Second most common: Peritoneal mesothelioma, which is found in the lining of the abdomen. An estimated 20 percent of all diagnoses are this type.

Mesothelioma Latency Period

Notorious for its extended latency period, mesothelioma can take years to develop. Typically, the latency period, which is the time between initial asbestos exposure and diagnosis, ranges from 20-50 years. This means asbestos victims often wait decades before developing any symptoms. Given the long period of time required for the disease to develop, most people diagnosed are over the age of 60.

Mesothelioma Signs and Symptoms

Diagnosing mesothelioma can be difficult because the early signs and symptoms of the disease are minimal and may be mischaracterized as another less deadly disease.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing or a dry cough
  • Chest or abdomen pain
  • Fever
  • Muscle weakness

These symptoms are usually mistaken for a chronic lung disease, another type of cancer, or even old age, as seniors are at the highest risk for developing the deadly cancer. This symptom overlap leads to an unusually high rate of misdiagnoses.

When mesothelioma goes undiagnosed, the cancer develops rapidly. When the patient is finally diagnosed, it may be too late for many treatment options. Early diagnosis truly can make a huge difference. As a result, it’s important for people with any possible history of asbestos exposure to tell their doctor right away and monitor their health closely for any possible symptoms. It may improve the chances of saving your life.

*Source: www.asbestos.com