Mesothelioma, also known as malignant mesothelioma, is a rare form of cancer that affects the linings of the internal organs. These linings are known as mesothelium, and this is where the name of the disease comes from. Mesothelioma is usually caused by asbestos exposure, and it is considered as the most severe asbestos-related disease. The disease usually develops over many years, and it may be unnoticed for decades. In many patients, first symptoms of the disease are visible only 50 years after the exposure. Unfortunately, this disease has a very poor prognosis. This relatively rare disease affects 7 to 40 per 1,000,000 individuals in industrialized Western nations. However, between 1940 and 1979, when the asbestos was still widely used, about 27.5 million people were occupationally exposed, only in the United States.
Causes of mesothelioma
As already mentioned, asbestos exposure is the principle cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos was once used widely in many construction materials, to improve their durability and resistance. Asbestos is not dangerous in the form of solid material, but once when the material is disturbed, and when the fibers become airborne, people are at risk of contamination. Asbestos fibers are microscopic and once when they are inhaled they lodge inside of the lungs, irritate the tissue and cause local inflammation. This process can last for decades and usually results in formation of scar tissue and malignant tumors. Other causes of mesothelioma include exposure to zeolite in soil, exposure to radiation, exposure to erionite deposits, infection with Simian Virus 40 (SV40), and increased risk of disease due to smoking.
Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma
This is one of the diseases that are very hard to diagnose. It develops gradually after many years of exposure and the first symptoms are commonly contributed to other unrelated diseases. Moreover, symptoms of this disease are frequently ignored or falsely contributed to other more common and benign ailments. In most cases, people will feel lower back pain, side chest pain, and shortness of the breath. Others may also suffer from persistent cough, fever, weight loss and fatigue. People may have difficulty swallowing, may suffer from muscle weakness, may start coughing up blood or complaining about facial or arm swelling and hoarseness. The average latency, a period between the exposure to the irritant and first signs of the disease, is between 35 to 40 years. However, some other factors, such as smoking, can contribute to more rapid development of the disease and poorer life expectancy.