Mesothelioma (pronounced “mez-o-theel-e-oh-ma”) is a cancer of the mesothelium, the protective membrane lining many vital organs, including the lungs, heart and abdomen. This membrane produces a lubricating fluid that allows organs to smoothly glide over each other as they perform their functions (e.g. breathing, beating of the heart, etc.). What are the facts surrounding the disease? Here are the top ten things you need to know about the disease.
* Mesothelioma affects many vital organs
Depending on the location of the cancer, mesothelioma has three types: peritoneal mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma and pericardial mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the lining of the abdomen; pleural mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs; pericardial mesothelioma affects the lining of the chest cavity.
A rarer type, testicular mesothelioma, affects the mesothelium of the male reproductive organ (called tunical vaginalis testis) and the mesothelium of the female reproductive organ (tunica seros uteri).
* Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer
There are approximately 2,000 to 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma (about 14 people in every million) in the United States each year or just more than 10,000 worldwide.
* 90% of mesothelioma cases are caused by exposure to asbestos
It is estimated that more than 8 million people were exposed to asbestos fibers in the last 50 years. Previous exposure to asbestos fibers is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos is a mineral fiber used in a wide range of products and applications and in many industries particularly in the late 19th century until the 1970s.
Asbestos fibers enter the body when breathed in or ingested. When they get stuck inside an organ, they irritate the tissues over time and cause normal cells to mutate into cancer cells. Anybody exposed to asbestos has a 7 to 10% lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma, and many of those diagnosed with the disease contracted the disease on the job.
The causes of 10% of mesothelioma cases are indeterminable. Some theories suggest that victims may have contracted the disease by exposure to zeolite (a chemical) or by radiation from x-rays that contain the chemical thorium dioxide.
* Mesothelioma affects more men than women
Since more men were involved in asbestos product plants, mines, shipbuilding facilities and railroad construction, statistics show that there are more males diagnosed with mesothelioma than females. Mesothelioma is five times more common in men than in women. It is also 75% more common in men aged 60 to 72 than in men aged 55 and below.
* Diagnosing mesothelioma is difficult
Mesothelioma symptoms are non-specific, meaning the characteristics of the symptoms are similar to some other diseases. As such, they are often overlooked. Mesothelioma symptoms include pleuritic pain, fever, weight loss and nausea. During consultation, patients should discuss their medical and personal/occupational history with their physician for a more accurate diagnosis of their disease.
* Mesothelioma has long latency period
From exposure to asbestos fibers, the cancer takes 15 to 50 years to develop. This means that a person who was exposed to asbestos fibers as long as 50 years ago may develop mesothelioma today.
* Mesothelioma is deadly
Benign cases of mesothelioma are extremely rare. Symptoms of the disease do not show up until it reaches its terminally advanced stage. By then, the disease is beyond cure. The average survival rate of mesothelioma victims from diagnosis is less than a year. Therapy options for mesothelioma include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.