Definition: Defining the Meaning of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma (malignant mesothelioma) is a rare form of cancer that develops from cells of the mesothelium, the tissue that lines your lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs is called mesothelium. Mesothelioma is most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos. A doctor uses imaging tests and a biopsy to tell the difference between malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer. Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath due to pleural effusion (fluid between the lung and the chest wall), chest wall pain and constitutional signs such as unexplained weight loss.
Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that develops when the cells of the mesothelium (a thin membrane that covers the chest and abdomen) start to multiply in a rapid and uncontrollable way and can take up to 60 years to fully develop.
The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 2,000-3,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year.
Mesothelium is actually divided into two parts.
- The first is the pleural which lines the lungs. The pleura is comprised of an inner layer and an outer layer which slide over each other as you breath. If mesothelioma develops in this area it is known as pleural mesothelioma and it causes the two layers to become thicker.
- The second is the peritoneum which lines the abdomen and it also has an inner layer and an outer layer. If the mesothelioma affects this area it is known as peritoneal mesothelioma and it also causes these layers to become thicker.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma:
The symptoms of mesothelioma vary based on the region of your body affected by the cancer.
The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Shortness of breath
- Lumps of tissue under your chest skin
- Weight loss
- Dry cough
- Painful breathing
- Painful coughing
- Chest pain near the rib cage
The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Change in bowel habits (frequent diarrhea or constipation)
- Lumps of tissue in abdomen
Both types of mesothelioma can be very painful and lead to a number of undesirable symptoms. Pleural mesothelioma can cause breathlessness, coughing and chest pain. It can also lead to pleural effusion where lubricating fluid in the lungs becomes trapped between the inner and outer layers of the pleura. Peritoneal mesothelioma can lead to abdominal pain, bowel problems and it swelling in the abdomen.
Almost every case of mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. In the past asbestos was a very popular construction material. However, as people became more knowledgeable they learnt about the dangers associated with this material. In particular they discovered that the very fine fibers that make up asbestos are easily released when the material is handled.
If you have previously been exposed to asbestos you should go see your doctor right away and explain your concerns. Even if it turns out that you do not have this type of cancer it is better to be safe than sorry.
Several other diseases are related to the exposure of asbestos fibers.
Not all of these are deadly, but they all result in health damage and even damage to the quality of the patient's life. Most of these diseases can be predicted and treated during the time of asbestos exposure. Normally, your exposure to the dust and fibers of asbestos does not cause disease immediately. However, you need to protect yourself from being exposed just to make sure that you will not develop a medical condition related with the mineral.
The dust and fibers of asbestos are hazardous since these are really small. In fact, a microscope is needed just to determine the type of an asbestos fiber. Once they enter the body, there are two possible places where asbestos fibers go. When the fibers are breathed accidentally, they go to your lungs. If they are swallowed, they go to your stomach. Hence, the most common types of asbestos-related diseases occur in the human chest and lungs.
When the fibers of asbestos are viewed through a microscope, they appear sharp. If they get inside your body, they will destroy your tissues. It has been said that all levels of asbestos exposure are harmful to the body. This is due to the fact that just one fiber can bring severe harm. The risk is greatest when you are constantly exposed to it. Medical experts say that the only way for you to hinder the development of asbestos-related health problems is to keep yourself from being exposed to its fibers.
Cancer diseases, which are linked with asbestos exposure, generally take two to four decades to develop. The whole duration is known as the "latency period." Compared to other asbestos-related diseases, pleural thickening occurs more often. There are some individuals who refer to their disease as "asbestosis." However, asbestosis is the specific term for one condition. In order for you to know what is affecting you precisely, you need the diagnosis of a specialist.
The following are among the diseases that are brought about due to severe exposure to the fibers and dust of asbestos:
Lung cancer and other types of cancer diseases
Epidemiological studies suggest that asbestos is one of the primary reasons for lung cancer-related deaths. On the other hand, there are times when a specialist finds it hard to determine the cause of lung cancer. This is especially true when the patient smokes a lot. It has been discovered that exposure to asbestos, paired with smoking, increases the likely of developing lung cancer. Other types of asbestos-related cancer are larynx cancer; stomach cancer; and cancer to the rectum, colon, and ovaries.
This is a type of pneumoconiosis. Asbestosis is the general reference for the damage occurring to the interior of your lung as a result of asbestos dust inhalation. Your lung is comprised of several alveoli where carbon dioxide and oxygen are transported to and from your blood. When asbestos dust gets inside your lung, the walls of your alveoli are damaged.
These refer to the local scarring or thickening of the membrane lining your lungs. Although this type of illness is not that severe, it can be painful and discomforting. It can act as a precursor to another type of asbestos-related disease.
This happens when the pleural lining of your lung hardens due to the asbestos fibers found in your lungs. When the case is severe, it can lead to breathing difficulties.
Mesothelioma Awareness Ribbon & Day
Pearl has been designated as the ribbon color for mesothelioma and lung cancer awareness. Mesothelioma Awareness Day, established by Meso Foundation volunteers in 2004, has been the driving force behind the movement to bring more attention and funding to this cancer. U.S. Congress declared September 26 National Mesothelioma Awareness Day in 2010.
Quick Facts: Cause of Mesothelioma
In the United States, asbestos is the major cause of malignant mesothelioma and has been considered indisputably associated with the development of mesothelioma. However, mesothelioma has been reported in some individuals without any known exposure to asbestos. In rare cases, mesothelioma has also been associated with irradiation, intrapleural thorium dioxide (Thorotrast), and inhalation of other fibrous silicates, such as erionite. Some studies suggest that simian virus 40 (SV40) may act as a cofactor in the development of mesothelioma. This has been confirmed in animal studies, but studies in humans are inconclusive.
- About 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the United States.
- The latency period between first exposure to asbestos and clinical disease usually is 20 to 40 years.
- The rate of mesotheliomas in the United States increased from the 1970s to the early 1990s, but since then it has leveled off and even gone down slightly.
- Based on data from the National Cancer Institute's SEER program, the relative 5-year survival rate for mesothelioma is between 5% and 10%. People diagnosed at a younger age tend to survive longer.