Asbestos and Cancer Facts from the Mesothelioma Center

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What is asbestos? Asbestos is a naturally occurring toxic mineral that was commonly used throughout the 20th century in thousands of products and many industries. Asbestos is naturally resistant to heat and fire, making it ideal for use in insulation. The mineral was often used in insulation and the fine, flexible fibers were frequently mixed with cement and woven into fabrics.

Exposure to asbestos can result in the development of serious illnesses such as malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. Each year, approximately 10,000 Americans pass away due to an asbestos-related illness.

Where was asbestos exposure most common?

Exposure to asbestos occurred frequently on the job in many different occupations. Jobsites where asbestos exposure was often prevalent include asbestos mines and the processing and manufacturing plants where asbestos products were produced. Shipyards, oil refineries, power and chemical plants were also common exposure sites.

Those who worked in certain occupations such as firefighters, auto mechanics and machinists may have been exposed to asbestos frequently. The United States States Navy also heavily used asbestos in the construction of ships and vessels. As a result, thousands of shipyard workers and Navy veterans have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.

What cancers are caused by asbestos exposure?

Asbestos exposure has been linked to the development of a myriad of illnesses and is known to cause mesothelioma and lung cancer. Exposure has also been linked to gastrointestinal cancer and colorectal cancer, as well as breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.

Asbestosis, a progressive pulmonary disease that affects approximately four of every 10,000 Americans, is also caused by asbestos exposure. Conditions such as pleural plaques, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and interstitial lung disease are among other illnesses associated with asbestos exposure.

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer. One of the primary mesothelioma causes is asbestos exposure. The cancer develops in the mesothelium, a protective membrane that lines three body cavities: the thoracic cavity (pleura), abdominal cavity (peritoneum) and the heart sac (pericardium). In the case of testicular mesothelioma, the cancer develops in the tunica vaginalis, the membrane surrounding the testicles.
Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma annually.

What are the different types of mesothelioma?

The four different types of mesothelioma are named for the area of the body they affect. The most common type of the cancer is pleural mesothelioma, which develops in the mesothelial lining of the lungs, known as the pleura. Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs in the peritoneum, the lining of the abdominal cavity. Pericardial mesothelioma affects the membrane surrounding the heart, known as the pericardium while testicular mesothelioma develops in the tunica vaginalis, the lining around the testicles.

How does mesothelioma develop?

The cancer develops when asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested into the body where they can become lodged in organs or cavities, causing inflammation or infection and cellular damage. Overtime, the cancerous cells begin to divide uncontrollably, causing the membranes in the affected location to thicken. Fluid then begins to build up in the spaces between membrane layers and tumors begin to form, causing impaired bodily function.

What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?

A mesothelioma patient will generally not demonstrate symptoms of mesothelioma until 20 to 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos. Symptoms often resemble illnesses such as influenza and pneumonia, and in the case of pericardial mesothelioma, symptoms can resemble other cardiac conditions. This can make diagnosis difficult though informing a doctor of prior asbestos exposure can alert them of the possibility of an asbestos-related disease.

Patients with pleural mesothelioma may experience symptoms including persistent raspy cough, difficulty breathing and swallowing, night sweats, fatigue and chest pain. Symptoms expressed by a peritoneal mesothelioma patient include diarrhea or constipation, nausea, fever, swelling or pain in the abdomen and anemia. Pericardial mesothelioma patients may experience chest pain, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, fever and fatigue. The only known symptom of testicular mesothelioma is the appearance of testicular lumps.

What is the typical prognosis for a patient with mesothelioma?

A mesothelioma patient’s prognosis, or the probable course and outcome of a disease’s influence on the body, is influenced by numerous factors. Since a mesothelioma diagnosis often occurs once the cancer has progressed to later stages of development, prognosis is typically poor. However if a patient is diagnosed before the cancer has spread or elects to undergo treatment to combat the cancer, their prognosis may improve. Factors that may influence prognosis include: the stage of a patient’s mesothelioma at the time of diagnosis, type of mesothelioma, size of the tumor, location of the tumor and whether it may be surgically removed and the age and overall health of the patient.

Is there a cure for mesothelioma?

While a cure for mesothelioma does not currently exist, treatment options such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are available for patients to help combat the cancer. Extensive studies and clinical trials are in progress internationally and cancer specialists and doctors are constantly working towards the discovery of a cure.

Article courtesy of the Mesothelioma Center - Asbestos.com

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