more precisely malignant mesothelioma, is a rare form of cancer
that develops from the protective lining that covers many of
the body's internal organs, the mesothelium. It is almost
always caused by exposure to asbestos.
Its most common site is the pleura (outer lining of the lungs
and internal chest wall), but it may also occur in the peritoneum
(the lining of the abdominal cavity), the heart, the pericardium
(a sac that surrounds the heart) or tunica vaginalis.
The symptoms of mesothelioma
include shortness of breath due to pleural effusion (fluid between
the lung and the chest wall) or chest wall pain, and general
symptoms such as weight loss. The diagnosis may be suspected
with chest X-ray and CT scan, and is confirmed with a biopsy
(tissue sample) and microscopic examination. A thoracoscopy
(inserting a tube with a camera into the chest) can be used
to take biopsies. It allows the introduction of substances such
as talc to obliterate the pleural space (called pleurodesis),
which prevents more fluid from accumulating and pressing on
the lung. Despite treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy
or sometimes surgery, the disease carries a poor prognosis.
Research about screening tests for the early detection of mesothelioma
Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles, or they have been exposed to asbestos dust and fiber in other ways. It has also been suggested that washing the clothes of a family member who worked with asbestos can put a person at risk for developing mesothelioma. Unlike lung cancer, there is no association between mesothelioma and smoking, but smoking greatly increases the risk of other asbestos-induced cancers. Compensation via asbestos funds or lawsuits is an important issue in mesothelioma (see asbestos and the law).
Why Do You Need to be Concerned About Asbestos?
Asbestos health effects
Exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing lung disease. That risk is made worse by smoking. In general, the greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the chance of developing harmful health effects. Disease symptoms may take several years to develop following exposure. If you are concerned about possible exposure, consult a physician who specializes in lung diseases (pulmonologist).
Exposure to airborne friable asbestos may result in a potential health risk because persons breathing the air may breathe in asbestos fibers. Continued exposure can increase the amount of fibers that remain in the lung. Fibers embedded in lung tissue over time may cause serious lung diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer, or Mesothelioma. Smoking increases the risk of developing illness from asbestos exposure.
Three of the major health effects associated with asbestos exposure include:
- Asbestosis -- Asbestosis is a serious, progressive, long-term non-cancer disease of the lungs. It is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers that irritate lung tissues and cause the tissues to scar. The scarring makes it hard for oxygen to get into the blood. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry, crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. There is no effective treatment for asbestosis.
- Lung Cancer -- Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. People who work in the mining, milling, manufacturing of asbestos, and those who use asbestos and its products are more likely to develop lung cancer than the general population. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and a change in breathing. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent chest pains, hoarseness, and anemia.
- Mesothelioma -- Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining (membrane) of the lung, chest, abdomen, and heart and almost all cases are linked to exposure to asbestos. This disease may not show up until many years after asbestos exposure. This is why great efforts are being made to prevent school children from being exposed.
What if I have asbestos in my home?
The best thing to do is to leave asbestos-containing material that is in good condition alone. If unsure whether or not the material contains asbestos, you may consider hiring a professional asbestos inspector to sample and test the material for you. Before you have your house remodeled, you should find out whether asbestos-containing materials are present. If asbestos-containing material is becoming damaged (i.e., unraveling, frayed, breaking apart) you should immediately isolate the area (keep pets and children away from the area) and refrain from disturbing the material (either by touching it or walking on it). You should then immediately contact an asbestos professional for consultation. It is best to receive an assessment from one firm and any needed abatement from another firm to avoid any conflict of interest. In such a scenario as described above, asbestos-containing material does not necessarily need to be removed, but may rather be repaired by an asbestos professional via encapsulation or enclosure.