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Mesothelioma - A Highly Fatal Cancer

Updated on April 11, 2013

Mesothelioma is a highly fatal and rare form cancer that affects the membrane that guards various inner organs of the body (mesothelium) after exposure to asbestos fibres. Malignant mesothelioma develops after 20-50 years of asbestos-containing materials exposure. The prevalence is three times more common amongst men than in women. According to the American Cancer Society, there are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 new cases per year of the disease in the United States, but this figure seems to be rising. Some patients have been known to live longer, though most succumb to the disease within four to 14 months after being diagnosed. Professions that expose workers to asbestos exposure include construction, oil refineries or oil and gas exploration, plumbing, boiler rooms, demolition, auto brake repair, and ship yard workers. Asbestos fibres carried into the home on clothing, inadvertently exposing the deadly fibres to the family members, and increasing the risk of mesothelioma to family members.

Asbestos has been mined and used commercially since the late 1800s. Since the early 1940s, millions of American workers have been exposed to asbestos dust. Asbestos fibers are easily inhaled, and tend to settle in the lower portions of the lung near the pleura. The fibers can cause inflammation and scarring and lead to lung damage or asbestosis. Asbestos can also be found in door gaskets, tile, roofing and other building materials, so you must take caution especially if you’re working with these materials.

Mesothelioma is rare in people under age 55. Its incidence increases with age. Between the ages of 60 to 70 the occurrence is ten times higher compared to men between 30 to 40 years of age. Race is not a factor. Mesothelioma affects thousands of individuals worldwide. Many physicians predict a large increase of victims in the near future because the dormant nature of this cancer.

Mesothelioma is most commonly located in the pleural (the lining around the lungs) and peritoneal (the lining around the abdomen) regions of asbestos-containing material exposed workers. Pleural mesothelioma is a name of the cancer of the pleura which is the membrane that lines the lungs and chest cavity. Due to its uncommon nature, mesothelioma is typically difficult to diagnose and treat. Survival of patients with mesothelioma is usually short if effective treatment is not found, especially those with tumors that grow aggressively. Mesothelioma is very aggressive and those who are diagnosed with the disease rarely survive after one or two years from the date of diagnosis.

Mesothelioma is found in the body in two forms: benign and malignant. Benign mesothelioma is non-cancerous and can usually be removed and cured through surgery. Mesothelioma is usually unresponsive to chemotherapy and radiotherapy regimens, and it will likely recur after the most aggressive surgical resection attempts. Multimodality approaches have been of some benefit in prolonging survival of very highly selected subgroups of patients, but they have had a relatively small impact on the majority of the patients diagnosed with this disease.

Mesothelioma is often difficult to diagnose, because the symptoms are similar to those of a number of other conditions (shortness of breath, trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, weight loss and fever). Diagnosis begins with a review of the patient's medical history, including any history of asbestos exposure. Chest pain is the most frequent symptom of pleural mesothelioma. Pain will generate from shoulder or upper abdomen, although it is not directly linked with the lung pleura. Patients may also be asymptomatic and this dreaded disease only discovered by physical exam or chest X-ray done annually.

Malignant mesothelioma has proven difficult to treat, because mesothelioma starts in the membranes surrounding the chest cavity and abdominal cavity, respectively, progression of this malignancy is to the underlying organs. Treatment with surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy used alone or in combination may be proposed, depending upon the potential benefits and risks of each modality, the location of the cancer, the stage of disease, patient’s age and general health of the patient itself. Until now, there is no standard treatment approaches have been proven to improve survival rate of the patients.

There is monetary compensation including medical costs, lost wages, and punitive damages from the companies responsible for causing this awful disease, which can either be sought after in a wrongful death suit, or when the patient is still alive. Patients are encouraged to consult with their physician for medical advice and with an experienced mesothelioma cancer attorney for legal advice


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