Mesothelioma is a very deadly form of cancer. About one in ten cases are caused by cancer that forms in other parts of the body and then metastasizes and travels through the body to the mesothelium. The other ninety percent of the occurrences of mesothelioma are known to be caused by exposure to asbestos dust.
The use of asbestos had, for the most part, stopped by the early 1980s. There are still some uses for asbestos, but only under tightly controlled conditions. It's found all over the world in naturally occurring deposits. There are documented cases of individuals being exposed to asbestos in nature by spending time or living near one of these natural deposits. For the most part, though, asbestos exposure occurred as a result of working around asbestos laden materials in many different professions.
Asbestos is found in the form of long, thin fibers. It's resistant to heat and flame, chemicals and electricity. When it's added to a product, it increases the tensile strength without adding too much to the weight and it dampens sound. For instance, it was used extensively in ship building to insulate both the walls and the engine. It's estimated that over 3,000 products had asbestos added during their manufacture. It was used in a lot of construction materials like wallboard, cement blocks, roofing shingles and floor and ceiling tiles. Asbestos was used to manufacture protective suits for people that were exposed to high heat in their job. Seals, gaskets, brake pads and brake drums had fibers added.
Asbestos becomes most dangerous when the fibers are released into the air. It is a friable mineral, which means that it falls apart and crumbles easily. As long as the fibers remain encased in another substance, they are safe, but, when the fibers break free, they have a tendency to float through the air. The dust created when asbestos falls apart contains millions of microscopic asbestos fibers. When they are airborne, anyone in the area will inhale and swallow them. Often, workers who spent their days exposed to asbestos dust would carry the fibers home and expose their families.
It can take anywhere from twenty to fifty years for the damage resulting form asbestos exposure to show up. Actually, the most common result of asbestos exposure is a disease called asbestosis. The fibers enter the lungs and then sit there. Over the years, the fibers will scratch the delicate tissues found in the lungs. The lungs heal and scar tissue is form which can't pull the oxygen from the air anymore. It is possible for the fibers to make their way to the outside of the lungs and infect the mesothelium.
The mesothelium is a protective layer inside the body that covers most of the vital organs and the cavities in which they are enclosed. It produces a fluid that allows the organs to rub against each other and the inside of the body without getting damaged. It has several different specific names according to where it is located in the body. The pleura surrounds the lungs and covers the inside of the chest cavity. In the stomach area it's called the peritoneum and the protective sac around the heart is called the pericardium.
The most common form of mesothelioma develops in the pleura, around the lungs. The microscopic fibers make their way to the outer surface of the lungs and begin to affect the lining. Tumors may begin to form that will affect the lungs functioning and cause the victim problems with breathing. It usually isn't just one tumor, but a mass of tumors that can grow large enough to fill the entire lung cavity. The process whereby the fibers reach the peritoneum is less understood. Medical professionals believe that it may be similar to what happens in the lungs, but aren't sure. They are also unsure about how the fibers may reach the pericardium, but theorize that the fibers may enter the bloodstream and get carried to the heart.
The average life expectancy of a person diagnosed with mesothelioma is between six and eighteen months. Research is being performed to improve diagnosis procedures, treatment options and medications to help mesothelioma sufferers. Right now it is estimated that about ten percent of the victims may survive for between three and five years and five percent may survive longer than five years. There is no cure. The number of medical cases is expected to continue to rise over the next few years and then peak in about 2015. The numbers should drop quickly after that, since asbestos use was banned in many industries in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Early diagnosis is the key to treating mesothelioma. The treatments that exist are the same for mesothelioma as for other forms of cancer. Most of the time more than one treatment option is used on a patient. For instance, a doctor may perform surgery to remove the cancerous tissue and main tumor masses, and then the patient may undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments to kill the other cancer cells that may be floating through the body.