Mesothelioma is the silent killer. It is the tragic story of our military veterans. Our tradesmen. Our parents and grandparents. Even our spouses and children. Mesothelioma is a very real, very serious cancer that affects thousands of American families each year. A malignant tumor that develops in the lining of the lungs or abdomen after exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma typically reveals itself only after a 30- to 50-year “latency” period. By then, it is too late to forestall the devastation of this painful form of cancer. But this deadly disease is preventable, and it demands our attention today.
Mesothelioma is form of cancer of the lining of the internal organs, or the “mesothelium.” When the cancer form invades in the lining of the lungs, the disease is called pleural mesothelioma, and the chief symptom is chest pain. When the lining of the abdomen becomes cancerous, the disease is called peritoneal mesothelioma, which causes abdominal pain. Other symptoms will also appear depending on the diagnosis.
Cases also vary according to the kind of cancer cell that is produced in the course of the disease:
Although rare compared to other cancers, mesothelioma still affects around 2,000-3,000 people per year in new diagnoses.
One of the most tragic aspects of the spread of mesothelioma is that many of the deaths caused by this devastating disease could have been avoided. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 70 to 80 percent of all cases of mesothelioma, patients reported that they had worked with a common industrial component, asbestos.
Asbestos refers to a group of naturally occurring mineral has been mined and used in the manufacture of a wide range of products, including insulation, brake linings and construction/building materials. These minerals easily separate into microscopic fibers that, when inhaled, invade the body’s organs and produce toxic effects. In addition to mesothelioma, there are two other major forms of asbestos-derived disease: asbestosis and lung cancer.
Some of the people most at risk for asbestos exposure include:
Family members and others who live with asbestos workers are also at risk, due to the “take-home” exposure of asbestos on clothing and hair. Shockingly, while mesothelioma was first identified in the 1940s, research and treatment has received little support, and asbestos remains a threat to millions of Americans.
Diagnosis of mesothelioma is complicated and difficult. It is important to see an experienced doctor for a proper diagnosis. A mesothelioma specialist can determine the difference between mesothelioma and other diseases that share common symptoms.
While there is no “cure” for mesothelioma, there are several treatment options that can help slow the progress of the disease. Depending upon the type of cancer, stage of disease, and overall health of the patient, a doctor may recommend:
See the National Cancer Institute's mesothelioma fact sheet for more details.