Understanding Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer affecting the mesothelium, a membrane covering vital organs including the lungs and chest cavity. Malignant cells from the mesothelium can invade and damage nearby tissues as well as spread to other parts of the body. Oftentimes the disease is advanced by the time of diagnosis, with a 5-year survival rate around 
5% to 10%. 

The main risk factor for mesothelioma is working with asbestos, a group of minerals that form thin-yet-strong fibers used in construction and manufacturing processes. Asbestos was predominately used after World War II for insulation, tiling, roofing and break pads due to its strength and resistance to heat. Unfortunately, exposure to asbestos can lead to a variety of illnesses including mesothelioma, lung cancer, laryngeal cancer and even ovarian cancer. 

When asbestos fibers are released into the air they can be inhaled or swallowed, leading to serious health problems. As many as 75% of mesothelioma cases can be linked to asbestos exposure at work. There is also some evidence that family members and others living with asbestos workers have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma, and possibly other asbestos-related diseases. This risk may be the result of exposure to asbestos dust brought home on the clothing and hair of asbestos workers. Cases of mesothelioma have also been seen in people living close to asbestos mines.

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Types of Mesothelioma

There are four types of mesothelioma defined by tumor location. Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment may vary depending on the type.

  • Pleural Mesothelioma
    Pleural mesothelioma is the most common mesothelioma, accounting for about 75% of cases. It is a cancer of the pleura, which is the mesothelium surrounding the lungs, and is attributed to breathing in asbestos fibers.
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma
    Peritoneal mesothelioma is a cancer in the lining of the abdomen. It accounts for 15% to 20% of mesothelioma cases and is attributed to swallowing asbestos fibers.
  • Pericardial Mesothelioma
    Pericardial mesothelioma is an extremely rare tumor type. It is classified as a cancer in the lining of the heart.
  • Testicular Mesothelioma
    Testicular mesothelioma is the most rare mesothelioma, and forms in the lining covering the testes.

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Treatments

Treatment of mesothelioma is based on a variety of factors including: stage of cancer, patient's age, current health, and amount of fluid in and around the lungs. There are three main areas of treatment for mesothelioma.

  • Surgery
    If the mesothelioma is in an early stage, surgeons will work to remove the tumor before it grows and spreads. Lung tissue, and part of or the entire lung may also be removed during a surgical procedure.
  • Chemotherapy
    This is the use of chemicals and drugs to try to combat the tumor. The chemicals target the mesothelioma in the hopes of shrinking and/or slowing the growth of the tumor.
  • Radiation
    These high-energy beams can be utilized to kill off remaining cancer cells following surgery. The goal with radiation therapy is to eliminate leftover cells while preventing them from growing and spreading.

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