What Is Mesothelioma Cancer?

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer of which you may have never heard. In fact, it is one of the rarest types of cancer with only about 2,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Since this condition is rare, you may be interested in some basic information about it. For instance, what exactly is mesothelioma? What body parts does it affect? What causes it?

Mesothelioma is a condition where the mesothelium, which a lining that protects the internal organs of the body, becomes cancerous. Doctors use two terms to describe mesothelioma, localized and advanced. Localized mesothelioma indicates the cancer has not spread beyond the protective lining. Doctors used the term advanced to describe mesothelioma that has spread to the internal organs, lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

Exposure to asbestos is the main cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos is a substance that was once widely used in construction because of its insulating and fire retarding properties. In the late 1980's and early 1990's there was a movement to ban some uses of asbestos because of its cancer causing nature.

The amount of asbestos used in construction is now limited, however, some older homes may still have a great deal of asbestos in the form of insulation. Problems usually occur with asbestos when the asbestos fibers are inhaled into the lungs.

This can happen if you decide to remodel your home and tear out asbestos products without proper protective gear. However, most people diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos over long periods of time in a job such as construction.

This type of cancer can be hard to diagnose because its symptoms can mimic those of other diseases. The main symptoms of mesothelioma include pain in the chest wall, shortness of breath, fatigue, anemia, wheezing or cough. The patient may also suffer abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, and may spit up blood.

A biopsy of affected tissue is required to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma. While your doctor is trying to narrow down what is causing your problems, however, he may perform a variety of tests. The tests used to narrow down your condition might include an X-ray of the chest cavity to check for thickening of the mesothelium, which indicates this lining has been damaged by asbestos exposure. He may also order a CAT scan or MRI. A check of the fluid around the lungs, called cytology, for cancerous cells may also be required.

Unfortunately, the prognosis for mesothelioma is not favorable. Because the disease often does not present itself with clear symptoms in the early stages patients are generally not diagnosed until the disease has become advanced.

At this point survival rates are generally less than about five years depending on what type treatment your cancer responds to. Treatments for mesothelioma include surgery to remove cancerous cells and tumors, radiation, immunotherapy and chemotherapy.

Mesothelioma is a disease that is fairly rare and generally limited to workers who have been exposed to asbestos dust or fibers while on their jobs. For this reason there have been limits on the amount of asbestos materials that can be put into any home or building. Those handling the material should take extreme care and wear proper gear at all times to avoid becoming sick from it.


M. Xavier


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