Predominately caused by exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that attacks the delicate lining that surrounds the internal abdominal organs. It is known to linger inside the body for decades before the first symptoms of the disease appear. Often, because of the long latency period, many patients are diagnosed in the later stages of the disease.
How Did I Get Exposed?
For mesothelioma victims, asbestos exposure can happen in a number of places. Most often, it's at work, especially for those who have worked in shipyards, in the military, as first responders and in factories or in construction and demolition. Today, an estimated 1.3 million people are exposed daily to asbestos, leading to an increased risk of mesothelioma.
Types of Mesothelioma
Once inhaled and inside the body, asbestos fibers are known to migrate. This can lead to one of several types of malignant, or cancerous, mesothelioma.
- Pleural; Lining around the Lungs; Persistent cough, difficulty breathing, coughing up blood, painful breathing, unexplained exhaustion.
- Peritoneal; Lining around abdominal organs including liver, stomach and bowel; Increased diarrhea or constipation, lumps in the abdominal area, abdominal pain or swelling, nausea, fatigue.
- Pericardial; lining surrounding the heart; chest pains, irregular heartbeat, heart murmur, painful coughing, difficulty breathing and unexplained fatigue.
The Asbestos Link to Mesothelioma
For newly diagnosed patients, one of the first questions is "how did I get mesothelioma?" The quick answer is by breathing in asbestos fibers. Asbestos fibers are often manufactured into common, everyday products like drywall or fire-resistant fabrics. When these products are damaged, the nearly invisible asbestos fibers are released into the air. While some forms of asbestos are curly and others are needle shaped, all of them are light and fluffy. They can linger in the air for long periods, making it easy for unsuspecting workers to breathe them in.
Once Inside The Body
In the lungs, asbestos fibers become trapped in the tissue in some cases. In other cases, it migrates throughout the body to adhere in other locations. Because mesothelioma is so rare, researchers don't have a clear picture about the disease migration. However, some think asbestos fibers travel through the lymphatic system.
Results of Mesothelioma
Once the asbestos fibers are inhaled, it often takes decades for the disease to develop. One theory is that the fibers simply take a long time to destroy the internal protective layer. Overall, studies showed that it takes an average of 43 years for the cancerous cells to form.
However, researchers think a higher the rate of exposure can lead to a shorter latency period. Many of the first responders during the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks have been diagnosed with mesothelioma within years of exposure to the asbestos-laden toxic clouds that formed as a result of the attack.
- Medline Plus. Mesothelioma Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/mesothelioma.html
- American Cancer Society. What is Malignant Mesothelioma? Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignantmesothelioma/detailedguide/malignant-mesothelioma-malignant-mesothelioma
- Mayo Clinic. Mesothelioma -- Definition. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mesothelioma/DS00779