The word "mesothelioma" may strike some individuals as a bit intimidating—and for a good reason! The word comes from mixed Greek and Latin roots, and literally means "tumor of the inner lining". Often heard on the commercials of lawyers searching for workplace injury clients after exposure to asbestos, this disease has become a sort of house hold name. Because this disease attacks the lining that connects the internal organs to the body's larger structure, locating the cancer can be troublesome. Continue reading to learn more about this deadly disease, of which there are many varieties and symptoms.
Mesothelioma Affects Different Body Parts
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer. It develops in the cells of the mesothelium, which is the protective membrane surrounding many of the body's internal organs, including the lungs, digestive system, heart, and reproductive system. The mesothelium's main function is to hold the internal organs in place, while also providing them with a lubricated surface to move against. The mesothelium also serves the secondary function of transporting fluids and nutrients across body cavities. Mesothelioma can affect any of the areas where the mesothelium is present. However, the most common is pleural mesothelioma—mesothelioma of the lung, which represents seventy-five percent of all mesothelioma cases.
Continue reading to find out what causes this deadly disease.
What Causes Mesothelioma?
The primary risk factor for contracting mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a class of naturally occurring minerals, made up of tiny fibers. The fibers are released into the air when the mineral is disrupted, and inhaling these fibers causes a variety of serious illnesses. Asbestos has been known since ancient times, but it was not widely mined until World War II. The advent of this war caused a huge spike in the number of mesothelioma cases, and it was eventually discovered by scientists that asbestos is incredibly harmful to the human body.
The majority of people who contract mesothelioma have worked in mining or similar fields, where there is a great risk of asbestos exposure. In fact, up to seventy-five percent of mesothelioma is caused by work-related asbestos exposure. Having family members who are exposed to asbestos at work is also a risk factor for mesothelioma, because the asbestos fibers may be carried into the house on the family member's body or clothing.
Next, discover how this form of cancer develops in relation to asbestos exposure.
It Takes Years For It To Appear
Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos develops mesothelioma or even any other related disease. However, even a short period of asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma in individuals who are especially prone to it. Even one month of consistently being in an asbestos-contaminated environment has been documented to cause this cancer. The terrifying aspect of this form of cancer is that it does not appear for many years after the initial exposure to asbestos. It virtually never appears earlier than fifteen years after the exposure and can take fifty years or more on average to finally appear and be properly diagnosed.
Keep reading to reveal the shocking truth about the survival rate of this rare disease.
Mesothelioma Survival Rates
Mesothelioma, fortunately, is a rare disease, with approximately 2,500 diagnoses in the United States each year, constituting less than 0.2% of all cancer cases, and affecting an estimated one in every 130,000 people or less. However, survival rates are poor, despite a variety of treatments including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Only about eight percent of those diagnosed with mesothelioma live five years or more after starting treatment. Women are about three times more likely to survive mesothelioma than men, perhaps because men statistically have higher asbestos exposure than women. The low survival rate is at least partly due to the fact that it is usually diagnosed at later stages. Symptoms often do not appear until the later stages of the cancer, and even then, the symptoms may be mistaken for a different illness.
Next, uncover the signs and symptoms of this rare form of cancer.
Signs And Symptoms To Be Aware Of
The signs of mesothelioma of the lungs—pleural mesothelioma—are similar to those of other respiratory diseases. These symptoms commonly include shortness of breath, chest pain, unexplained weight loss, unusual cough, fatigue, wheezing, and coughing up blood. Mesothelioma of the casing of the digestive system—peritoneal mesothelioma—presents symptoms including abdominal swelling and pain, weight loss, fever, night sweats, vomiting, constipation, lack of appetite, and umbilical hernias. Mesothelioma of the casing of the heart—pericardial mesothelioma—is rarer, and therefore not well characterized. Known symptoms include heart failure, chest pain, shortness of breath, pericarditis, cardiac tamponade, and pulmonary embolism.
Considering all of these symptoms may be indicative of less serious conditions, it is important to seek medical advice regarding any troublesome symptoms. Any other illnesses must be ruled out before undergoing testing for mesothelioma or any other type of cancer, but it is also important for a patient to let their doctor know if they have been exposed to asbestos at any point during their lifetime. Remember, with early detection, the chances of survival increase.