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Mesothelioma: The Facts

Updated on August 19, 2013

History and Introduction

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer primary caused due to prolonged exposure to asbestos.

As compared to other types of cancers, it is more rare and it usually develops around the mesothelium (the protective cellular lining which is present around many organs of the body).

A large number of mesothelioma cases over the course of the 20th and early part of the 21st century were reported in middle to elderly men who underwent prolonged occupational asbestos exposure.

While a link between asbestos and poor health had begun to be established as early in the 1920s, it wasn't until the 1970s and 1980s (in Australia) that the extensive use of Asbestos at many job sites had been legally banned. While it can never be guaranteed that a workplace can always be 100% asbestos-free, many corporations have taken extensive preventive measures (such as in shipyards, powerplants, schools and oil refineries etc) to excessively limit asbestos-exposure to their workers.

The sad fact remains though that many people continuously pass away each year due to mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses and the prognosis is still very poor due to limited historical research.

The most common form of Mesothelioma occurs around the outer layers of the lungs (Pleural Mesothelioma) but it is also known to strike the heart (Pericardium), abdomen (Peritoneal) and the sac around the testes (Tunica Vaginalis).

It should also be noted that while symptoms of lung cancer and the pleural infection of Mesothelioma are similar, there's absolutely no co-relation between smoking and the onset of the latter - having said that, smokers exposed to Asbestos stand a much risk of contracting this rare cancer as against non-smokers.

The typical symptoms of Mesothelioma can include shortness of breath, sudden loss of weight, swelling, irregular bowel moments, jaundice, low blood-sugar level, swollen abdomen and wheezing to name a few. Since the symptoms of mesothelioma are so varied and can be confused for other ailments, it is hard to simply find by the onset of these symptoms whether the patient is suffering from Mesothelioma or not. The symptoms can also take an extremely long time to appear and manifest and it can often be too late before its concluded that the patient is suffering from mesothelioma.

Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural Mesothelioma accounts for almost 75% of all reported cases of the disease. Like all other types, it can take almost 20 to even 50 years before any prognosis is detected as any symptoms that arise can be often confused for other ailments including asthma and pneumonia.

The usual life-expectancy for a diagnosed patient can be anywhere between 4 to 18 months

The symptoms include coughing up blood, raspy and dry cough, unexpected and unexplained weight-loss, painful breathing and loss of appetite.

The primary cause is usually attributed to asbestos fibers migrating and attaching themselves to the mestohelium of the lungs after long and occupational exposure to asbestos.

At this stage, many patients have shown to respond well to traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy, surgery (an easy and popular option as the tumors usually arise only on one side of the lungs) and radiotherapy. The first diagnosis however remains poor (With first signs of infection usually being detected only by detailed CT-Scans and PET-Imaging).

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Peritoneal Mesothelioma is the 2nd most common kind of the diseases after the pleural mesothelioma and usually accounts for 10 to 20% of all reported cases. While the prognosis is usually under a year, its potential early detection can increase life expectancy and improve treatment.

The causes can be attributed to asbestos fibers being ingested over a long period and attaching themselves to the peritoneum (membranes along digestive organs) over a period of roughly 20-30 years. X-Rays can detect first signs that a person's infected however biopsies are usually able to confirm a positive diagnosis.

The symptoms typically include flu-like symptoms like night-sweats, fatigue, fever, nausea or vomiting and abdominal pain and swelling.

Like other types of cancers including pleural mesothelioma, surgery of the tumour remains the most successful cure apart from chemo and radiation therapies.

Pericardial Mesothelioma

Of the four types of Mesothelioma, this form is among the rarest apart from testicular mesothelioma.

Medical researches are still trying to show a concrete link between Pericardial Mesothelioma and inhaled Asbestos fibres - while it has been established asbestos fibres successfully migrate into the pleura, it is still not exactly known how they manage to reach the heart's membrane or pericardium.

Due to the similarities in symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma and other heart conditions, prognosis is usually very low and many sufferers have known to pass away within 6 months of first diagnosis

Pericardial mesothelioma strikes twice as many men as women and can take almost 50 years to develop.

Symptoms can include an irregular heartbeat, murmurs, fatigue, difficulty breathing when lying down and fever.

As far as treatments are concerned, surgery's usually not recommended on the pericardium due to its extreme proximity towards the heart and clinical benefits of radiotherapy and chemotherapy have also been shown to be minimal.[2]

Researchers hope that a conclusive method of treatment and diagnosis can be determined in the near future.

Testicular Mesothelioma

Testicular Mesothelioma (Tunica Vaginalis) is the rarest form of the disease - In total, only 100 cases have ever been reported.

Very little is known about why mesothelioma attacks the testes (especially given that it is a secondary tumour) and not much is known about any specific set of symptoms either - the most obvious or only recurring symptom being the visibility of lumps of swelling around the testicular sac.

The treatment of testicular mesothelioma usually involves removal of the part or probably the entire testicle - the rest of the cancerous cells can then be killed by chemo or radiation therapy.

It should also be noted that Testicular Mesothelioma's known to be an aggressive form of cancer (apart from Peritoneal) and cancerous cells may recur even after first chemotherapy.


While legal limits on the use of asbestos in many industries were introduced in the 1970s, it is only now that many people (after a positive diagnosis) have begun realizing that they need external help (apart from the medical attention needed) to help them.

If a patient wants to sue their employer for negligence, there are many mesothelioma attorneys who specialize in Mesothelioma lawsuits and can even travel to the patients and plaintiffs to discuss their case if they're too ill to travel on their own, while settlements can vary (anywhere between a few hundreds of dollars to a multi-million dollar settlement), it has increasingly placed many organizations under scrutiny and has forced them to overhaul their occupational health and safety protocols.

Depending on where you live, financial help may also be available to help a patient with treatment.

While mesothelioma lawsuits and mesothelioma attorneys continue to strive and help mesothelioma patients through their ordeal and fight for a decent financial settlement, the disease remains enigmatic to many medical researchers and work continues even to this day to understand its prognosis and cure in more detail.

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    • docashp profile image

      Dr Ashish 3 months ago from india

      Hello Harry, now pleural thickning has also been recognised as a risk factor in people working in asbestos related industry.

      Nice and informative hub you got there.

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks for the feedback Peggy and livelife .. ..

    • lifelovemystery profile image

      Michelle Orelup 4 years ago from Houston, TX

      A diagnosis of meso is a death sentence. Unfortunately, there is no cure. Companies that get sued by employees that were exposed can drag out a case forever. Employees have to prove that they were exposed due to a specific area and within a specific timeframe. Companies fight tooth and nail in order to get out of paying benefits.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Terrific article about this deadly form of cancer. Voted this UUI, gave it a 5 star rating and I am going to share this with my followers and also pin it to my health related subjects board.

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Hey Lyricwriter.. Please accept my belated condolences for the passing of your father in law .. this is exactly why mesothelioma's considered an ambush-killer .. when it strikes.. the patient usually has months to live at best unless chemo does the job... hence mesothelioma lawsuits are becoming one of the most expensive in the world due to the nature of settlements and you're needs more awareness and research.. .

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 4 years ago from West Virginia

      Hackslap, voted up, useful, interesting, and shared on FB. My wife's father passed away from mesothelioma nearly 2 years ago and once he was diagnosed, he didn't make it but a month and a half. The symptoms take so long to develop and it's so rare, the last thing we'd ever consider was mesothelioma. It's sad and at the least, I hope your article brings awareness to mesothelioma. We need better technology, technology that is able to detect this early on rather then in the late stages. I forget the date when it was excluded in America, but I believe it was around the same time frame. Very well written. Best wishes.

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      You have my condolences and sympathies for your loss tebo ...What's causing death amongst mesothelioma sufferers is the delayed prognosis and lax laws regarding asbestos exposure until the 1980s.

      Hopefull with more awareness and mesothelioma lawsuits this changes

    • tebo profile image

      tebo 4 years ago from New Zealand

      My father in law died of mesothelioma - I think the pleural variety. Actually my husband died of lung cancer a few years ago and I often wonder whether it was actually due to asbestos. He did smoke but would have been around when his mum was shaking out the asbestos filled overalls of his fathers for washing. He seemed to have really advanced lung cancer for his age. His Dad was a painter at the Pineapple Factory in Brisbane and sanded down asbestos walls before painting. Interesting hub.

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 4 years ago from Hawaii

      I've learned a lot from rewding this hub.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      Have heard of this disease many times but never knew it was a form of cancer to much of anything about it. Very enlightening article!

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks mate!

    • purnasrinivas profile image

      purnasrinivas 4 years ago from Bangalore

      A very informative hub!