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"3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States of America each year"

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Understanding Mesothelioma: The Asbestos Cancer

Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer that affects a person long after exposure. Typically, mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos and is therefore called asbestos cancer. About 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States of America each year (statistics from cancer.org). Since, the disease has long latency period, its victims are often unaware of the presence of the cancer until much later. Understanding mesothelioma, its causes and treatment options can help affected family members decide on a course of action.

 

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma (pronounced as me-zoe-thi-li-O-muh) is the name given to a type of cancer. Mesothelioma happens in a thin tissue layer called mesothelium that spreads over majority of a person’s internal organs, if affected.  

 

What is Mesothelium?

The mesothelium refers to a cellular membrane that is made up of simple squamous epithelium. The mesothelium covers the lining of several body cavities in a human being. The mesothelium is present over the pleura, peritoneum, mediastinum and pericardium. The mesothelial tissue can be seen in the male internal reproductive organs and also covers the internal reproductive organs of women. The mesothelium tissue that covers the internal organs is referred to as the visceral mesothelium. The layer that covers the body walls is referred to as the parietal mesothelium.

 

How do you get Mesothelioma?

The most common risk factor to contracting mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Most people who get mesothelioma cancer (malignant mesothelioma) have a history or working jobs where they were regularly exposed to asbestos. Exposure to asbestos is one of the primary causes of mesothelioma.

 

What is the latency period for Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a malignant form of cancer. For most recorded cases of mesothelioma, the patients had a latency period between initial exposure to asbestos and the occurrence of symptoms between 25-50 years. Very rarely does the cancerous condition develop in a human before 20 years. However, some cases have been reported where patients have had symptoms much earlier than this time period.

What are the various symptoms of Asbestos Cancer?

Asbestos cancer initial symptoms usually include shortness of breathbreathing difficultychest painpain or swelling in the abdomen. Usually these are also accompanied by an accumulation of fluid in the lung, called a pleural effusion.

 

How to treat Pleural Effusion?

Pleural effusion is usually relieved by a process called as a thoracentesis. Thoracentesis involves inserting a needle through the patient’s chest wall between the ribs so as to reach the area of the lung where the accumulated fluid has stored. The fluid is drained out to allow the lung to fully expand, and gives the patient immediate relief from shortness of breath.

 

What are the various stages of Mesothelioma?

Once mesothelioma is found inside a person’s body, first diagnosed, the consulting doctor usually prescribes more tests to find out how far the cancer cells have spread inside other parts of the body. This process is called staging. A doctor needs to know a patient’s stage of the cancer to plan appropriate treatment for it. The following are the stages of malignant mesothelioma:

Stage I: This stage is often referred to as ‘localized malignant mesothelioma’. In this stage, the cancer is found in the lining of the chest cavity or near the lung or diaphragm.

Stages 2-4 are referred to as ‘advanced malignant mesothelioma’

Stage II: In this stage, the cancer is found to have spread beyond the lining of the chest cavity and into the lymph nodes within the chest. 

Stage III: In this stage, the cancer is found to have spread into the chest wall, chest center, heart, through the diaphragm, or abdominal lining, and in some cases into nearby lymph nodes. 

Stage IV: In this stage, the mesothelioma cancer is found to have spread across far lying organs or tissues.

Recurrent malignant mesothelioma is not really a stage of mesothelioma cancer. Instead, it refers to a situation where the cancer has returned to a patient after they have received treatment for mesothelioma. The cancer might come back in a different part of the body than the one it was treated for earlier.

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How is asbestos cancer diagnosed?

Mesothelioma, commonly called asbestos cancer doesn’t show symptoms until much later. The cancerous disease has а long latency period. Often, a patient might require more than one diagnostic test to confirm cancer. Х rays, computed tomography (CT or CATscan, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans and biopsy tests are used diagnose cancerous cell growth.

 

What is asbestos? In which environments is asbestos present?

Asbestos is the term used to describe a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres. Asbestos is a toxic and natural mineral, is highly heat-resistant, and is a fibrous silicate mineral that can be woven into fabrics. Asbestos has been recognized worldwide as a carcinogen. The use of asbestos in products has banned in 55 countries across the world but not in the United States of America. Asbestos was used as a element to insulate buildings. It was heavily used all throughout the 1970s. Common uses for asbestos included insulation, fireproofing materials, furnace/boiler insulation and roof and ceiling tiles.

 

Which occupation professionals have a risk of mesothelioma?

People who have worked in the following kinds of jobs may have been exposed to asbestos in their job environment: plumbers, electricians, insulation installers, boiler workers, furnace workers, mechanics, carpenters, steel workers, and maintenance workers. Construction sites, shipyards, refineries and factories were all high-exposure environments for asbestos. During the 1970s, many other industrial sites also exposed workers to asbestos. Some people who were working these jobs may have come into contact with asbestos without even knowing it.

What is the treatment for mesothelioma?

Treatments for asbestos cancer are usually for three types:

1. Surgery: In mesothelioma surgery, the operating doctor may remove part of the lining of the chest or abdomen and some of the tissue around it to remove the cancer. If the cancer has spread far, a lung or a part of the lung may also be removed in a medical procedure called pneumonectomy. Other times, mesothelioma surgery also removes a part of the diaphragm or some of the muscle below the lungs.

2. Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy for asbestos cancer uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells as well as shrink tumor sizes. Radiation therapy is of two kinds. Radiation therapy using a machine outside the body is called external radiation therapy. While, radiation therapy by putting materials which produce radiation called radioisotopes through thin plastic tubes in affected areas is called internal radiation therapy. 

3. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy for asbestos cancer can be done either by the ingestion of a pill, or it can be done via a needle poking inside the vein or muscle. Chemotherapy for mesothelioma can put the drugs directly into the chest and is called intrapleural chemotherapy. 

4. Intraoperative photodynamic therapy: Intraoperative photodynamic therapy uses a combination of drugs and light to kill cancer cells during surgery. During this process, a drug is injected into a patient to make the cancer cells sensitive to light, a few days before surgery. During surgery the cancer killing light is shined upon the pleura.

 

What can I do if my job got me asbestos cancer?

Since exposure to asbestos is a primary reason for mesothelioma, and the disease has a high latency period, many patients often find themselves as victims of unsafe work environments decades after leaving their job. Many people seek the professional help of an asbestos lawyer or mesothelioma lawyer to help get a settlement. There have been many recorded cases of mesothelioma lawsuits. In most cases, since the harmful effects of asbestos are well known, there have been big money settlements for plaintiffs and is an option you can explore if any of your close ones are found to be affected.    

 

Who are mesothelioma lawyers?

Mesothelioma lawyers or asbestos lawyers are those lawyers who represent plaintiffs that have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestos caused cancer. Usually, the mesothelioma lawyers work with plaintiffs who have had long work histories that involved working with or near asbestos containing products. Many mesothelioma law firms also expertise in dealing with cases related to asbestos cancer.

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