Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer and is comprised of four subtypes; all currently have no known cure. The four types of mesothelioma combine for an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year. The highest percentage of cases diagnosed is pleural mesothelioma, which develops in the lining of the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma is a cancer affecting the lining of the abdomen, and pericardial mesothelioma affects the lining of the heart. The rarest form of this disease, testicular mesothelioma, is characterized by tumors found in the tunic vaginalis. Overall symptoms among mesothelioma include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- Loss of muscle function
- Fluid buildup in the lungs
- Coughing up blood
- Weight loss
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Exposure to Asbestos
The cause of mesothelioma has been overwhelmingly linked to asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a fibrous naturally-occurring material that forms from the amalgamation of several different minerals. The fibers that comprise asbestos are friable and hard, making them capable of easily breaking apart and becoming airborne. Once inhaled, these tiny fibers imbed themselves within various tissues of the body. Asbestos began as a widely used material that was a cost-effective component of various construction materials, consumer and household products. Asbestos exhibited a strong resistance to heat, electricity and chemicals, resulting in heavy use across several industries.
However, during the 1960s asbestos was discovered to have detrimental effects pertaining to people’s health. Among other diseases and illnesses caused by asbestos exposure, mesothelioma can continue to impact those individuals exposed decades later. Despite legislative regulations on asbestos in 1989, the mineral is still permitted for use in some products. Mesothelioma exhibits extremely long latency periods of anywhere between 20 and 50 years, meaning symptoms of mesothelioma may not begin to present until decades after the exposure has occurred.
There are multiple theories attempting to explain why and how this known human carcinogen causes mesothelioma. One theory introduced suggests that asbestos fibers may scar certain cells located in the protective lining of organs which is known as the mesothelium, eventually developing into a malignancy.
Another popular theory of causation states asbestos fibers have properties capable of changing normal cell structure. This theory notes this change in cell structure can affect the cell’s natural ability to divide at a healthy rate. Consequently, the new unnatural cell division produces cancerous cells. Despite differences in theoretical opinion, there is an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence linking asbestos exposure to all forms of mesothelioma, as well as various other illnesses and disease.
Individuals at Risk for Developing Mesothelioma
Studies suggest some individuals may be at a higher risk for developing mesothelioma than others. The American Cancer Society has noted that most mesothelioma cases are the result of workplace asbestos exposure, making this a primarily occupational disease. The family and loved ones of people working near materials and construction containing asbestos are also at risk, as the fibers can come into the home on hair and clothes. This type of exposure is known as paraoccupational secondary exposure, and it can also result in mesothelioma. In addition, several commercial buildings and factories, as well as schools and homes, were constructed with asbestos containing materials, placing those who patronize these buildings at risk.
Other Risk Factors
Zeolite—Chemically similar to asbestos, zeolite is a silicate mineral found in the soil of the Anatoli region of Turkey. This mineral has been reported as the cause of some of the mesothelioma cases diagnosed within that region.
Radiation—There have been recent concerns regarding neoplastic complications in light of increasing long-term cancer survival rates. A study was conducted by the Department of Internal Medicine in Philadelphia regarding occurrences of malignant mesothelioma following radiation therapy. The study found a case of pleural mesothelioma in a Hodgkin’s disease patient who had successfully completed radiation therapy. Most notable to the case was the fact that this particular patient had no known prior exposure to asbestos. This and other related malignancies are most likely due to a variety of factors. However, radiation therapy and chemotherapy have been implicated in the development of post-therapy neoplasia, or new cell growth.
Still other risk factors have been hypothesized, including: chest injuries, chronic inflammation, organic chemicals and genetics. The research surrounding these potential risks is still in the infancy stages, requiring substantiation before they can be formally linked to causation.
Tobacco and Mesothelioma
Those patients receieving a diagnosis of mesothelioma will more than likely be asked by their doctors to cease all smoking of tobacco products. This is because there is a synergistic effect between smoking tobacco products and asbestos exposure. Smoking alone has not been shown to cause mesothelioma, except in instances where cigarettes contained asbestos filters. However, smoking has been directly linked to lung damage. This can inhibit the body’s ability to thwart the negative effects of asbestos exposure. Those who smoke and have been exposed to asbestos are more likely than those who do not smoke to develop mesothelioma.
Receiving a diagnosis of mesothelioma can be an overwhelming time for patients and their loved ones. Patients will likely encounter various concerns and numerous questions throughout the diagnostic and prognostic processes. Mesotheliomaprognosis.org is dedicated to providing resources for patients and their families. Those who have been affected by mesothelioma are urged to receive a mesothelioma information packet, delivered free of charge within 24 hours. For further information please call 1-855-584-0411.