MesotheliomaMesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects cells found in the mesothelium, a protective membrane surrounding the majority of the body’s internal organs. The cells that make up this membrane protect the organs by making a special fluid that allows the organs to move and, in particular, help the lungs to move during breathing.

Mesothelioma comes in three varieties:

  • Pleural: most common (75 percent of diagnosed cases), originates within the chest and impacts the lungs
  • Peritoneal: second most common (15 to 20 percent of diagnosed cases), originates in the abdomen and can involve the testicles, or spread to liver, spleen or bowel
  • Pericardial: very rare (5 percent), originates around the heart

Mesothelioma Prognosis

While mesothelioma is relatively rare, 2,500 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed per year. And unfortunately, the average survival time of those with malignant forms of the disease is ten to fourteen months. The prognosis for a long life expectancy is not good even when symptoms appear early and diagnosis is correct so that the disease can be treated aggressively.

What Causes Mesothelioma?

The only known cause of mesothelioma in the U.S. is previous exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. In addition to mesothelioma, the inhalation of the deadly mineral fibers can cause lung cancer and asbestosis. The World Health Organization estimates that asbestos-related diseases kill approximately 107,000 people around the world each year.

There are several different kinds of diseases that are commonly associated with a previous exposure to asbestos fibers.

Malignant (or cancerous) diseases, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer are increasingly and severely disabling, often leading to death.

Benign (non-malignant or non-cancerous) diseases, such as asbestosis, pleural plaques, diffuse pleural fibrosis, and benign pleural effusions are less disabling and is sometimes diagnosed before symptoms appear, but it is a progressive disease and often continues to develop and produce symptoms, decreases in lung function which can produce shortness of breath, sommetimes progressing to seriously disabling disease and even death.

Mesothelioma and asbestosis are very clearly and directly attributable to exposure to asbestos. Other diseases such as gastro-intestinal tract cancers have a causal connection to asbestos exposure and one that appears probable, but has not yet been proven with certainty.

The diseases for which asbestos exposure is a generally accepted cause are mesothelioma, asbestosis, small airway fibrosis, scarring, pleural plaques, pleural fibrosis, pleural effusion, and many lung cancers.

Each of these asbestos-related diseases can only be diagnosed through medical examinations and tests. If you were exposed to asbestos it does not mean that you absolutely must have, or will have, an asbestos-caused disease. But it does mean that you should:

  • tell your doctor about your asbestos exposure
  • receive regular medical care and check-ups
  • remain vigilant about your health

Other Mesothelioma Information

  • The vast majority of people who develop mesothelioma have inhaled asbestos particles, often through their jobs, according to the National Cancer Institute. In fact, a history of asbestos exposure in the workplace is reported in approximately 70 to 80 percent of all mesothelioma cases.
  • It usually takes a long time before symptoms of mesothelioma appear (on average 30 to 50 years)
  • There is a difficulty in diagnosing mesothelioma because its symptoms are common to many types of infections and cancers
  • There is often a challenge of putting together the puzzle pieces for an accurate diagnosis
  • Mesothelioma occurs more often in men than in women
  • The risk of developing mesothelioma increases with age, although anyone can get mesothelioma
  • Treatment depends on cancer location, the patient’s general health and disease stage
  • Standard treatment options include radiation therapy, surgery and chemotherapy. In some instances, these are combined

While treatments are available for some people with mesothelioma, they are mostly used to improve the quality of life of people whose survival prospects are typically measured in months and not years.