Who Gets Mesothelioma?

Who Gets Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma attacks the layer of tissue called the mesothelium that covers the internal organs. Even though it most often affects the lining of the lungs, mesothelioma can also attack the lining of the heart and abdominal organs.

Mesothelioma Symptoms

Most patients do not develop symptoms of mesothelioma for 20 to 30 years after exposure to asbestos. By this time the cancer is usually advanced, which makes treatment difficult and a cure highly unlikely.

Symptoms of the disease can vary depending on its location. The first symptom of pleural mesothelioma is normally shortness of breath. This is usually accompanied by painful coughing, chest pain, visible lumps under the skin of the chest, and unexplained weight loss.

If mesothelioma occurs in the abdomen, the symptoms may include abdominal pain and swelling, unexplained weight loss, and lumps under the skin of the abdomen. It is important to remember that these symptoms are similar to many other conditions, and mesothelioma is extremely rare in the absence of asbestos exposure.

Risk Factors for Mesothelioma

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. It has strong fibers and is heat-resistant. It was used for years in a variety of applications ranging from insulation and flooring to shingles and brakes. Asbestos fibers and dust can easily become airborne where they can be inhaled or swallowed into the lungs or stomach. Individuals at highest risk for mesothelioma are those with a personal history of asbestos exposure, including:

  • Auto mechanics
  • Firefighters
  • Construction workers
  • Plumbers and pipefitters
  • Navy veterans and shipyard workers
  • Welders
  • Railroad workers
  • Oil refinery workers

It is possible to develop mesothelioma through second-hand exposure to asbestos. Individuals working with the material can bring the microscopic fibers home on their skin and clothing where they can be inhaled by family members. People working with asbestos can reduce the risk to their family by making sure they shower and change clothes before returning home.

Individuals living close to asbestos mines are also at greater risk due to the high amount of dust and fibers released into the surrounding environment. Individuals with first-degree family members with mesothelioma are also more likely to develop the disease.

Treatments for Mesothelioma

Since mesothelioma is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage, treatment is usually centered around keeping the patient comfortable and reducing the severity of symptoms. Surgery may be used to relieve fluid build-up around the lungs to make it easier to breath. If the cancer is caught early enough, surgery may be used to remove at least some of the diseased tissue.

Chemotherapy and radiation may be beneficial in reducing the size and slowing the growth of cancerous cells. A number of clinical trials are also underway to evaluate the efficacy and safety of new mesothelioma treatments. It is important for individuals receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis to discuss their treatment goals with their healthcare team and family in order to determine the best options for them.