What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer found in the lining surrounding the lungs, the stomach, the heart or the testicles. This cancer takes its name from the name that is given to this lining - the mesothelium. The pleura is the name for the mesothelial tissue surrounding the lungs and lining the chest cavity. If the cancer is in this lining, it is called "pleural mesothelioma." Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma.
The peritoneum is the lining that covers most of the organs in the abdominal cavity, while the pericardium is the lining that covers and protects the heart. If the cancer is in either of these areas, it is called "peritoneal mesothelioma" or "pericardial mesothelioma."
Like other forms of cancer, mesothelioma occurs when cells become abnormal and divide or grow out of control. When someone has mesothelioma, the lubricating fluid in the lining may be over-produced. This excess fluid encases the organs with a thick layer of tumor tissue, described as a rind type of layer, that puts pressure on the organs. People with pleural mesothelioma often complain of shortness of breath and a buildup of fluid in the chest area. In advanced cases of mesothelioma, cells metastasize, or grow and invade other organs and spread to other areas of the body.
The only agreed upon cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos.
It often takes 10 to 60 years after exposure to asbestos before the symptoms of mesothelioma develop.
This period of time is referred to as a latency period. Because of the latency period, the disease commonly affects men and women that are at least 50 years of age and that worked with asbestos between 10 and 60 years ago.
However, there are many known cases of people developing mesothelioma at an earlier age. Often these are the sons and daughters whose parents were exposed to asbestos and who unwittingly brought the invisible dust home on their clothes or who did home remodeling projects and used products, such as joint compound, that contained asbestos. In some cases the child was around the parent as the parent changed the brakes - lined with asbestos - in the family car. This is called secondary exposure to asbestos.
Many people working 10 to 60 years ago were not required to use any type of protection in the workplace while they were exposed to asbestos even though the companies that manufactured the products containing asbestos had full knowledge that it was dangerous and that exposure to it would harm the health of many of the workers.
As with other cancers, a speedy diagnosis is important to effective treatment of mesothelioma. If you believe that you may have mesothelioma and that you worked with asbestos in the past, you should inform your doctor of this fact.
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