Mesothelioma: 14 Questions and Answers
Mesothelioma: 14 Questions and Answers
Why are we hearing about the disease known as mesothelioma (mez-uh-thee-lee-oh-muh) far more often today? This is because the disease has taken decades to become full blown and was often misdiagnosed in the past.
Mesothelioma is likely to affect certain populations more - such as those who served in the military decades ago, and very often - longshoremen. One major difference is that mesothelioma is recognized now as a disease, and there is extensive information on the Internet about the disease, allowing us to be better informed.
Following are 14 questions and answers about mesothelioma:
1 - What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that affects the lining of the abdomen, chest or other tissues. Some forms of the disease have been reported in the lining of the testicles. There are four types of mesothelioma.
2 - What are the four types of mesothelioma?
- pericardial mesothelioma is related to the heart
- pleural mesothelioma is related to the lungs
- peritoneal mesothelioma is related to the abdomen
- and testicular mesothelioma
3 - Why are we now hearing more about mesothelioma?
It parallels asbestos exposure and use which became more common and more frequent since 1900. Exposure to asbestos is most often the cause of the disease. Exposure may have taken place many decades ago but the disease may not show up for at least 10 years after first being exposed to asbestos, but it often appears about three to four decades after asbestos exposure. Sometimes longer.
4 - How many people are affected today?
In the U.S. 2,000 to 3,000 people are affected annually. In fact, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs reports that there are about 25 million veterans who have been exposed to toxic asbestos-containing materials while serving in the military in the past. It was not until the 1970s that the material was phased out. Additionally, more than 300 products used in the military contained asbestos. Shipyard workers, especially longshoremen, were at the greatest risk. (see the personal note below)
5 - What is the prognosis?
The prognosis has been poor but there is newer, extensive surgical techniques that may change this prognosis. Early diagnosis and early treatment helps improve the prognosis.
6 - Does all types of asbestos cause the disease?
All fiber types of asbestos cause mesothelioma. There is some talk now that other fibers may also cause mesothelioma such as zeolites. Exposure to asbestos may also result in lung cancer and asbestosis.
7 - What is this disease called Asbestosis? How is it different from mesothelioma?
Asbestosis is a progressive pulmonary disease that is also caused by asbestos exposure. However, this disease is characterized by scar tissues on the lungs making it hard for the lungs to contract or expand. While mesothelioma is a form of cancer that affects the mesothelium - which is the membrane lining in several body cavities.
8 - What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral known to be toxic. It was often used during the 20th century because it was heat and fire-resistant. Many industries used asbestos and many patients who are now affected worked in these industries.
9 - Where was it used - other than in the military?
The mineral was used in many applications because it was strong, fire-proof, corrosion resistant and a good insulator. It was frequently used in insulation, such as in the attic and to cover pipes. Many older homes have asbestos that was used to make floor and ceiling tiles, roof shingles, flashing, wallboard and siding. It was also added to building materials such as concrete, vinyl and asphalt for strength. While it was phased out in the 1970s in the military, it was still used occasionally elsewhere into the late 1980s.
10 - How does the disease develop?
The disease develops by inhalation or ingestion into the body where the fibers then lodge into cavities or organs. This, in turn, causes infection or inflammation as well as cellular damage. After awhile, the cancerous cells begin to divide causing membranes to thicken. Fluid builds up in spaces between membrane layers and tumors begin to form.
11 - What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?
Symptoms may take more than 10 years and up to 50 years to show up after initial exposure. Symptoms can resemble other illnesses such as pneumonia and the flu. There may be breathing and swallowing difficulties, a raspy cough. fatigue, chest pains, night sweats, constipation or diarrhea, nausea and fever. Symptoms also depend on which part of your body is being affected. In the case of testicular cancer, it is the appearance of testicular lumps.
12 - What are the treatments for mesothelioma?
The most common forms of treatment include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Clinical trials are often available to test new treatment options, such as photodynamic therapy.
13 - What about alternative treatments?
There are alternative therapies that have been used to improve a patient's quality of life. These include acupuncture and massage.
14 - Where can I find more information?
There is a wealth of information on the Internet. Please search several sites to get a thorough understanding. There you will find information about treatment options, doctors, and attorneys.
Personal Note: Shipyard workers between World War II and the Korean War were more at risk for the disease. This included my father who worked as a longshoreman. However, back in the late 60s, it was referred to as lung cancer. Asbestos was the ideal material for shipbuilding because of its ability to resist high temperatures and corrosion. It was used as insulation for steam and hot water pipes and boilers. Asbestos dust built up in these areas leaving me to believe that this was also brought home in clothes - for my mother to wash. As far as longshoremen, many men loaded bundles of asbestos onto ships and no special precautions were ever used.
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