Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that originates in the mesothelium. The mesothelium is the protective lining that covers the body's internal organs. Mesothelioma occurs when the mesothelium cells start to divide uncontrollably. They can begin invading and damaging the nearby tissues and organs and gradually may spread to other parts of the body.
About 2,500 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States every year and the majority are traced back to occupational asbestos exposure. Asbestos is the cause of mesothelioma and its chief risk factor. There are higher incidents of this cancer in men as compared to women and most victims are over 65, but the disease can strike at any age.
Although use of asbestos has been decreased substantially in the past few years, this has not resulted in any major decline in the incidence of mesothelioma. The reason is because there is a latency period from asbestos exposure to disease diagnosis - it can take about 20 to 50 years for the symptoms of mesothelioma to develop after exposure to asbestos.
The mesothelium membrane is comprised of two layers of cells. One layer surrounds the organs while the other forms a sac around it. There is a lubricating fluid produced by the mesothelium between these two layers that helps in the gliding movement of the organs against each other.
Depending on the location in the body, the mesothelium is known by different names. The mesothelial tissue covering the abdominal organs is known as peritoneum and the membrane covering the lungs and chest cavity is called pleura. The mesothelium covering the heart and protecting it is known as pericardium.
Most cases of mesothelioma start in the peritoneum or pleura. However, the cancer can attack tunica vaginalis, which is the sac that surrounds the testis and the pericardium.
Types of Mesothelioma
Malignant mesothelioma is, unfortunately, the most prevalent type, but there is a benign form too:
• Malignant mesothelioma
This is the rare form of cancer and the most serious of all asbestos related diseases. It can be a difficult disease to diagnose correctly because symptoms may be similar to other ailments. Today, pathologists use immunohistochemistry to actually identify the proteins and DNA of the cancer cells to help arrive at the correct diagnosis. Typical treatments for malignant mesothelioma include chemotherapy (usually pemetrexed and cisplatin), radiation, surgery, and multi-modality therapies (two or more therapies combined).
• Non-malignant Mesothelioma
Also referred to as benign mesothelioma, this is much easier to treat as compared to the malignant form of the cancer. Many cases have been successfully treated and cured.
Protecting Yourself from Mesothelioma
Because mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure, the best way to minimize your risk is to reduce your exposure to asbestos. Unfortunately, asbestos was used in thousands of different products especially building products. In addition, the US currently does not have a total ban on asbestos today. Recently, independent testing found that some children's toys from China contained asbestos. Typically asbestos is not dangerous unless it is ingested or inhaled. However, the fibers are so small (microscopic) that you cannot see them with the naked eye.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.
Malignant mesothelioma is, unfortunately, the most prevalent type, but there is a benign form too. Although use of asbestos has been decreased substantially in the past few years, this has not resulted in any major decline in the incidence of mesothelioma. To learn more, visit the Surviving Mesothelioma website.