Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that attacks the body's mesothelial cells around the
organs. The mesothelium provides a protective membranous lining for the internal
organs and allows moving organs (i.e. the heart and the lungs) to glide easily
against adjacent structures. The names of the three regions of mesothelial cells that
provide protective coating are 1) pleura, the sac which surrounds the lungs; 2)
peritoneum, the lining which protects the abdominal cavity; and 3) pericardium, the
sac which surrounds the heart. Three different types of mesothelioma cancer attack
these three different regions.
Pleural mesothelioma: A type of lung cancer which attacks the pleura surrounding
the lungs, this is the most common type of mesothelioma, affecting approximately
two-thirds of all mesothelioma patients. Symptoms include horseness, fever, blood
in sputum, swollen arms and face, coughing, loss of weight, difficulty breathing,
chest pain, weak muscles, and reduced tactile sensitivity.
Peritoneal mesothelioma: A cancer of the abdomen which attacks the peritoneum
lining the abdominal cavity. This affects approximately one-third of all
mesothelioma patients. Symptoms include abdominal bloating, impaired bowl
function, fever, swollen feet, and nausea.
Pericardial mesothelioma: This form of mesothelioma which attacks the pericardium
surrounding the heart is extremely rare. Symptoms include chest pain, dyspnea,
cough, and palpitations.
Mesothelioma has been linked to asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a type of building
material used in thermal insulation products and ceiling tiles. In the United States,
asbestos usage peaked during the 1950s - 1970s. During the late 1960s, concerns
over the health consequences of asbestos exposure began to arise, thereby
decreasing the amount of asbestos manufactured in next two decades. By the
1980s, a new industry of asbestos abatement began to flourish. But according to
the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as many as 733,000
schools and public buildings still contain asbestos.
Small asbestos fibers that enter the air do not evaporate and can remain suspended
in the air for a long time. These fibers, when breathed into the body, are toxic.
There are three types of asbestos exposure.
Occupational asbestos exposure: People working in factories that manufacure
asbestos are likely to have a high exposure to asbestos and are most at risk of
developing asbestosis or mesothelioma.
Paraoccupational asbestos exposure: Family members of workers exposed to
asbestos in the workplace are susceptible to exposure from asbestos dust brought
home by the worker on his clothes or skin.
Neighborhood asbestos exposure: Those who live in the vicinity of an asbestos
manufacturing plant are also at risk.
Mesothelioma is still a relatively rare form of cancer. There are an estimated 2,000 -
3,000 new cases per year in the United States. Approximately 7-13 per one million
male patients with a history of asbestos exposure contract mesothelioma. Diagnosis
usually occurs 20-40 years after initial exposure to asbestos.
Jimmy Atkinson writes for the Mesothelioma Reporter at http://www.mesotheliomareporter.org .