Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer. The only known, direct cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos fibers. Thousands of workers in a variety of professions were exposed to asbestos dust in the course of their labors. Asbestos related illnesses can take anywhere from twenty to fifty years to develop and often result in death for the sufferer.
The mesothelium is a very important part of the body. It is a lining that covers and protects most of the vital organs. This lining secretes a fluid that allows the organs to perform their functions without getting damaged when they rub up against other organs and the interior of the body. It has a few different names, according to where it is in the body. The pericardium is the sac that surrounds the heart. In the stomach area, it is called the peritoneum and in the chest, it's called the pleura.
In case you don't know, asbestos is a mineral that is cheap and easy to find. It has been in use for centuries, but really became popular during the industrial revolution. It is most often used as an insulator because it is heat and flame resistant. It was used to wrap hot water pipes in buildings, homes and even steam engines. It was placed in the walls of ships to help prevent fires and to deaden noise. All told, there was over an estimated 3,000 products that had asbestos used in their manufacture. Many building materials, besides insulation, had asbestos as a main ingredient. Wallboards, ceiling and floor tiles, cement blocks, mortar, roofing shingles and many adhesives contained asbestos fibers. These products can still be found in older homes and buildings, today.
The problem with asbestos is that it is very harmful to humans. It breaks apart very easily and floats through the air. The dust contains millions of microscopic asbestos fibers that are inhaled by anyone walking through or working in the area. Once the fibers settled in the lungs, they had nowhere else to go and there isn't an easy way to get rid of them. Over time, as the lungs expand and contract with breathing, the fibers scratch up the delicate tissues. When the tissues heal, scar tissue develops that can't pull oxygen from the air anymore. This condition is known as asbestosis and it has claimed many lives. It's treatable, though, as long as the condition is detected early enough.
Asbestos and the Pleura
The asbestos fibers that are sitting in the lungs have the possibility of working their way to the outside of the lung and into the mesothelium. Once there, they can irritate and inflame the pleura. Over the years, the possibility exists for pleural tumors to form and affect lung function. As the pleura thickens with tumors, it becomes more and more difficult for the victim to draw a breath and lung capacity is diminished. Eventually, it is possible for the tumors to completely fill the lung cavity and stop the lung from functioning all together. As if that weren't bad enough, mesothelioma will metastasize quickly and spread cancer throughout the body.
The first symptom that often appears is chest pain. The location of the pain can be deceptive because it doesn't feel like it is coming from the lungs. Most of the time, the pain is felt in the shoulder or upper abdominal area. A dry, raspy, persistent cough may soon develop and, eventually, the victim may actually start to cough up blood. Shortness of breath may begin to happen, even when the individual is resting. A few other symptoms may include difficulty swallowing, the appearance of lumps under the skin in the chest, extreme and persistent fatigue, night sweats and fevers, and sudden weight loss.
Treatments for Pleural Mesothelioma
There is no cure for either asbestosis or mesothelioma. There are treatments for both, but they all depend on discovering the illness early enough to do a person any good. For mesothelioma, the treatments are the standard ones used for most forms of cancer, namely, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Most of the time, the three are used together. If the tumors are small enough, surgery can be performed to remove the cancerous tissues and then one of the other treatments will be used to, hopefully, kill the rest of the cancer cells in the body. However, when the diseases are advanced enough, the only thing medical professionals can do is try to make the patient comfortable.
After an individual is diagnosed with mesothelioma, their life expectancy is anywhere from six to eighteen months. Studies and research are currently being done to extend that number or figure out how to cure it all together. Right now, there are estimates that about five percent of the people may be able to survive longer than five years with this deadly form of cancer and about ten percent will survive between three and five years