What is Mesothelioma – Rare Lung Cancer Overview

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If you take a close look at your email spam box, you may see headings such as: “Suffering from mesothelioma? Call this number to speak to an attorney.” This begs the question: what exactly is mesothelioma?

Definition of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a primary cancer of the mesothelium, which is the type of cell tissue that makes up the lung pleura(the thin sac that encases each lung). For the most part, it is caused by long-term exposure to asbestos (a silicate compound which came into heavy usage in late 1800s in U.S. and Canada as the main component of insulation material in homes and commercial buildings).

Occupations at Risk of Mesothelioma

Most patients who get diagnosed with mesothelioma have been in occupations where they repeatedly inhaled asbestos particles or fibers. Here are some at-risk occupations:

  • shipyard workers

  • construction workers/contractors

  • heating and insulation industry staff

  • asbestos mill workers

  • roofers

  • coal miners

  • oil refinery workers

  • building inspectors

The Link Between Rare Lung Cancer and Smoking

There is no direct correlation between mesothelioma and smoking, but if you are a heavy smoker who also had high occupational exposure to asbestos, that will increase the odds of developing lung cancer (including mesothelioma) tremendously. Personal injury compensation via set-aside asbestos funds or lawsuits is a high profile topic among trial lawyers – and this helps explain why you keep seeing “mesothelioma ads” in your spam box or in the paid advertising margins of Google searches.

Mesothelioma Symptoms and Treatment

The common symptoms developed by individuals with mesothelioma are chest pain and shortness of breath; cough may also be present. Chest x-ray is generally notable for the abnormal presence of fluid (in the lungs), and there is often irregular thickening of the pleura. Definitive diagnosis requires biopsy of the pleura and pathologic confirmation of the malignancy based on the biopsied tissue samples.

Treatment for mesothelioma usually involves some combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, though results are mixed at best. The clinical prognosis for mesothelioma is quite poor. The cancer eventually encases the lungs and spreads to other intra-thoracic structures. Death invariably results, generally from respiratory failure (like a natural suffocation). Less than 10 percent of mesothelioma patients survive three years, writes S.E. Weinberger in Principles of Pulmonary Medicine (W.B. Saunders Publishing, 2008).

Though incidence rates of mesothelioma has increased worldwide in the past two decades, it is still a fairly rare form of cancer. The highest rates are in Belgium, Britain, and Australia (30 cases per 1,000,000 per year), while the United States is mid-range in terms of incidence, having peaked in 2004 with 15 cases per 1,000,000, according to Claudio Bianchi and Tomasso Bianchi in the June 2007 study “Malignant Mesothelioma: Global Incidence and Relationship With Asbestos” published in Industrial Health (45 [3]: 379–387).

Help for Mesothelioma Patients and Their Loved Ones

Though current treatment prognosis is poor, there is extensive clinical research now ongoing in hopes of discovering a cure. Those who suspect that they (or a loved one) might have mesothelioma should immediately seek attention from their medial doctor – a family physician or pulmonologist is a great place to start.

The Mesothelioma Center is a great, accurate online resource where one can obtain more detailed information on the condition, including latest treatment protocols and clinical trials, as well as names and contact numbers for medical doctors who specialize in treating mesothelioma patients. As with all cancers, earlier detection leads to better clinical outcomes.


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