Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops in the lungs. It is caused by exposure to asbestos, a mineral fiber the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says was once “added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.”
While treatments for mesothelioma are improving, it remains a very difficult cancer to treat, and it has no cure.
Who is at risk?
The unfortunate fact is short-term and one-time exposures to asbestos are known to cause mesothelioma cancer.
If you’ve worked in shipyards and auto repair shops, or frequented homes and public buildings built prior to 1977, you may be at risk of developing the cancer.
There are also several products that contain asbestos that you may have not thought of:
• Mill board
• Automotive materials
• Paints, plasters, clay
• Mechanical products like heating ducts
• Packing materials
• Fire-proofing materials
According to Mesothelioma.com, other risk factors that increase the likelihood that a person will develop mesothelioma include exposure to radiation, exposure to zeolite and exposure to SV40.
While smoking does not cause mesothelioma, it does not help the problem.
How mesothelioma develops
Mesothelioma usually affects the thin protective membrane that surrounds the lungs, heart and abdominal area.
• Pleural mesothelioma forms in the lining of the lungs.
• Peritoneal mesothelioma forms in the lining of the abdominal cavity.
• Pericardial mesothelioma forms in the lining of the heart.
According to Asbestos.com, the tiny asbestos fibers are inhaled and become trapped in the body tissue, causing irritation. That irritation leads to inflammation, cell deformation and potentially cancer.
“Whether someone develops lung cancer … will depend on a person’s health, genetics, habits like smoking, and the duration and concentration of exposure,” the website says.
Even with the reduced exposure to asbestos, the incidence of mesothelioma remains constant. This cancer typically shows up 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos.
Symptoms and treatment for mesothelioma
This type of cancer can be subtle; by the time you exhibit uncomfortable symptoms, the cancer is well established. Some of the symptoms include:
• Difficulty swallowing
• Shortness of breath
• Unexplained weight loss
• Fluid in the lungs
• Bowel obstruction
• Blood disease
Because mesothelioma is a very rare cancer, treatment is often difficult. The life expectancy of someone who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma is not good -- ranging from nine to 24 months on average, according to Asbestos.com.
Mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive form of cancer. The focus of treatment is often on reducing pain and prolonging life as long as possible.
(Suzanne Carlile, “Nurse Suzy,” has been a nurse since 1982. Her main focus is critical care and nursing education. She holds a master’s degree in nursing, is a certified emergency nurse, and a member of NNSDO Intermountain West Chapter.)