Definition of mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is debilitating and dangerous form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. While mesothelioma is still a relatively rare form of cancer, the number of those affected has increased substantially in the past decade.

While researchers and physicians are still searching for a cure for mesothelioma, science has allowed us to expand our knowledge of the disease and how it changes the lives of those afflicted. Treatment options are becoming more available for those affected with mesothelioma, and alternative therapies are helping countless patients ease the pain from this terrible disease. Similarly, physicians and surgeons alike have put forth a commanding effort in the search for a cure for mesothelioma, making it one of today’s most researched illnesses.

Brief summary

In basic terms, mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the mesothelial lining which is caused only by exposure to asbestos. When asbestos fibers, which are highly carcinogenic, become air-born they are either inhaled into the lungs or swallowed and ingested. Typically, when asbestos fibers are inhaled into the lungs the small splinter-like fibers become embedded in the lining of the lungs, which can lead to chronic inflammation and the development of scar tissue, which impairs the ability of the lung to expand and contract. When the lungs become scarred from asbestos fibers but the scarring is not cancerous, it is a disease known as asbestosis. However, this scar tissue can become cancerous decades after exposure, leading to the mesothelioma. Likewise, when the fibers are ingested they become lodged in the lining of the abdomen and chest cavity, which also leads to the development of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma attacks the mesothelium, a double-layered protective membrane that surrounds the internal organs of the body like the heart, lungs and abdomen. The two layers are filled with fluid which allows the smooth movement of the organs within the chest cavity. The layer surrounding the lungs is known as the pleura, the layer covering the heart is known as the pericardium and the layer surrounding the abdominal cavity is known as the peritoneum. While mesothelioma can affect any of the mesothelial tissue in the body, it is most commonly seen in the pleural or peritoneal mesothelium. Sadly, many patients are not diagnosed with mesothelioma until symptoms are present, and symptoms are not usually present until the cancer is in its advanced stages. Patients diagnosed with mesothelioma typically survive for only one year.

Mesothelioma has an unusually long latency period, which means it can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years to fully develop. Unfortunately, the early symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to other pulmonary and heart conditions. First signs of the cancer usually include coughing, difficulty breathing and stomach pain. Today most patients with mesothelioma are typically older men who were once employed in industries that used asbestos for economical reasons.

After the disease has been diagnosed, there are several treatment options available for patients, depending upon the location of the cancer, the size of the tumor, the general health of the patient, if the cancer has metastasized, and obviously the wishes of the patient. The three most common methods of treatment are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Alternative therapy is also currently being studied and has shown great success in clinical trials. More information regarding clinical trials, current studies and treatment options are available upon request. Oftentimes treatment for mesothelioma is simply to ease the pain of the cancer, and is not administered with the hope to cure the cancer. It is usually the goal of physicians to keep the quality of the patients life as high as possible and to keep the patient comfortable.

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