Many people who did their jobs diligently decades ago are just now discovering they have an extremely dangerous type of cancer called Mesothelioma. It takes several decades between exposure to cancer causing elements and development of symptoms. By the time the symptoms are noticed, it could decrease any ability to fight this disease. Even though thousands of people have already discovered they have been affected by Mesothelioma, millions more may soon develop symptoms. It is an insidious and potentially deadly disease.

Mesothelioma – A Deadly Disease

In general, when there are genetic mutations within a cell, cancer may develop partly because that cell increases in growth and multiplies uncontrollably. Researchers at the distinguished Mayo Clinic have yet to identify the initial genetic mutations responsible for development of Mesothelioma, but they have identified factors that might increase risk. Asbestos exposure is a leading suspect in this quest for answers.

The causes of any cancer can be from many sources, including inherited conditions, health conditions, lifestyle choices, and environmental conditions. With Mesothelioma, much evidence has been gathered that indicates a strong relationship between exposure to asbestos and a later development of this disease. Exposure to asbestos at any time can lead to development of this disease decades after that exposure.

Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is proven to be effective for controlling or preventing fires, and it has been used liberally in many industrial applications, the auto industry, home building, and for many uses in the military. Asbestos was used heavily starting in the middle of the 20th Century. A major concern with this deadly disease is that by the time symptoms are discovered, decades after exposure, it may be too advanced to treat.

During the mid-20th Century, millions of people worked with or were otherwise exposed to asbestos fibers. The National Institutes of Health estimate that number of persons exposed between 1940 and 1978 to be over 11 million. Between 1999 and 2013, 37,000 persons died due to Mesothelioma, but experts believe this was just the tip of the iceberg of potential deaths.

Types of Malignant Mesothelioma

Although malignant Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, it is a serious problem for anyone who develops this disease because it often has a poor prognosis. This cancer originates from tiny asbestos fibers that become lodged in a thin lining of internal organs that is known as the mesothelium. Those microscopic fibers are introduced into the body through inhalation or ingestion. After these fibers enter the body, they cause inflammation and scarring that can then lead to development of cancer.

Even with its rarity, there are three forms of malignant Mesothelioma:

The worst aspect of malignant Mesothelioma cancer is that it develops so slowly, and by the time it is finally discovered, it has become malignant and difficult to treat.

Malignant Mesothelioma Causes

Anyone who develops this disease has been exposed to asbestos sometime earlier in their lifetime. Other factors, like smoking or other environmental pollutants, can also contribute to the development of this form of cancer, but the main cause is asbestos exposure.

When someone is working with asbestos products or exposed to products that contain asbestos, they may inhale or somehow ingest the tiny fibers of this mineral. A naturally occurring mineral, asbestos has been used worldwide in many industries. It is a toxic mineral that has excellent qualities for resistance of heat and corrosion. It is used in insulation, fireproofing, floor tiles and other building materials, vehicle brakes and in clutches.

There are many types of fibers included under this general name Asbestos, including materials that have been chemically altered. Some typical ones are: chrysotile, crocidolite, tremolite, amosite, anthophyllite, and actinolite. These natural materials and genetically modified adaptations of them are widely used in construction and ship repair. They also are present and can be released during renovation, repairs or demolition activities. Currently recognized as a hazardous material, it is highly regulated by OSHA and the EPA in the United States. Its use in the U.S. was phased out around 1989 and banned in 2003.

There is a long period between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms of Mesothelioma, up to 30 to 50 years. Exposure can happen at a jobsite where the person worked, handling these hazardous materials. Before the dangers of asbestos exposure were known, people were openly exposed to it. Unfortunately, spouses and children of persons exposed to asbestos also have developed this type of cancer from that secondary exposure. The minute fibers are carried home on clothing and hair and then can be passed along to other family members.

Treatment of Malignant Mesothelioma

Treatment depends on the symptoms that are present, the location of the cancer and the stage of advancement. There are three basic treatment methods for Mesothelioma:

  • Surgery – Removal of all or parts of the affected organs; adjacent organs or lymph nodes may also be removed if they are cancerous.
  • Chemotherapy – Used to kill fast growing malignant cells; it may be used in addition to surgery or afterwards to destroy any cells left behind.
  • Radiation – Often used following surgery or chemotherapy to shrink tumors and to stop cancerous cells from spreading; it may prevent a recurrence.

Other more aggressive treatments are possible when the cancer is diagnosed in an early stage. This may involve complete removal of the affected lung, pericardium pleura and diaphragm. If not treated, malignant Mesothelioma is painful and ultimately deadly.

Prognosis & Positive Prospects

The best thing that can be done about the causes of malignant Mesothelioma is to avoid any contact with asbestos minerals or any product that contains those products. The outcome can be a positive one if the person afflicted with this type of cancer receives adequate treatment as soon as symptoms are diagnosed.

Survival rates are, at best, an estimate and the actual rate is affected by many factors, including the stage of the disease. This disease is hard to diagnose, and timing is a big factor. There may be several decades of development prior to symptom diagnosis, which lowers any recovery rate. Other factors are the health and age of the patient and how they respond to treatment. Current survival rates are based on prior information from people who have already had and been treated for Mesothelioma. Remember, with newer treatments available today, the prognosis may be better than “poor.”

There are four stages of Mesothelioma, with median survival rates from 21 to 12 months. The 5 year survival rate calculated by the National Cancer Institute is just between 5% and 10%. Malignant Mesothelioma is indeed one of the most serious forms of cancer.