Mesothelioma Questions and Answers
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that affects the lining of the chest and abdominal cavities. Mesothelioma is known to be caused by asbestos exposure and typically takes between 25 and 40 years to show symptoms. Mesothelioma patients are usually given a poor prognosis. Diagnosis of the disease typically comes late in its progression. Mesothelioma sufferers and their families have filed many lawsuits since the early 1980's against employers who exposed their workers to asbestos on the job. Many legal battles continue even as legislation is being drafted to change the face of asbestos litigation forever. Learn more about mesothelioma here.
What causes mesothelioma?
The biggest risk factor for mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos fibers. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used in industrial applications for decades because of its fibrous nature and its ability to be woven into many different materials to add strength, flexibility, and durability. Undisturbed, asbestos poses a minimal health risk to individuals. Unfortunately asbestos is easily broken into small, sharp fibers that become airborne when asbestos products are cut, sanded, broken, removed or otherwise disturbed. Asbestos fibers that are inhaled or ingested can cause problems in the lungs and mesothelium, which is a layer of tissue that lines the chest and abdomen. When asbestos fibers get stuck in the mesothelium on the outside of the lungs or the abdomen, they cause irritation that, over a long period of time, can lead to fluid build-up and tumors that characterize mesothelioma. Learn
more about asbestos here.
What is the mesothelium?
The mesothelium is a double-layered, sheath-like lining that surrounds the cavities of the chest, abdomen, and heart. The mesothelium provides support and lubrication for the various organs of the body to move, expand, and contract while keeping them in place. The two layers of the mesothelium are very thin. Between them is a fluid that provides the lubrication properties of the tissue. Asbestos fibers that become lodged in the mesothelium can irritate mesothelial cells and lead to the formation of cancer. In many cases the mesothelium, or a portion of the affected tissue, is removed in mesothelioma patients.
What are the different types of mesothelioma?
There are three types of malignant mesothelioma cancer. There are other forms of mesothelioma that are benign, but they are usually much easier to cure and are not caused by exposure to asbestos.
The three forms of mesothelioma that are caused by asbestos are: pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, and pericardial mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma affects the mesothelium surrounding the chest and lungs. It is the most common form of the disease.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common form of mesothelioma and it originates in the mesothelium of the abdomen. Pericardial mesothelioma is extremely rare and affects the membrane surrounding the heart cavity.
Can I get mesothelioma if I have not been exposed to asbestos?
There is no conclusive evidence to support the existence of causes other than asbestos that, acting alone, lead to mesothelioma. There is some speculation that mesothelioma may be more prevalent in those exposed to asbestos who are also genetically predisposed to the disease. Research has also suggested that those with a disease called Simian virus 40, or SV40, are more susceptible to mesothelioma. However, even those with SV40 who have developed mesothelioma have usually been exposed to asbestos as well. It is thought that SV40 may increase the chances of developing the disease when an infected individual is exposed to asbestos. It should also be noted that many don't realize they have been exposed to asbestos. This is usually the case when a person lives with someone who works with the substance brings the microscopic fibers into the home on their clothes, hair, skin, etc. Since there need not be high levels of asbestos exposure for mesothelioma to develop, constant exposure of this type can lead to mesothelioma over time.
Am I at risk?
If you have had a history of exposure to asbestos, you may be at risk of developing mesothelioma. Typically, mesothelioma patients have been exposed to large amounts of the fibers, but this is not always the case. If you have experienced any of the symptoms of mesothelioma, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.