Saturday, January 20, 2007

What is Mesothelioma?

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Mesothelioma is a cancerous disease that is becoming more and more common. Affecting the mesothelial cells that make up the mesothelium – the outer lining that protects the body’s major organs such as the heart, stomach and lungs – this form of cancer is a direct result of regular and unprotected exposure to asbestos. The symptoms and the latency period of this disease mean that it is difficult to diagnose. Treatment for mesothelioma is still being investigated through clinical trials and research, but as a rule it responds poorly to the treatments that are currently used.

The people most at risk from being carriers of this cancer are those have worked with asbestos over the past thirty to fifty years. Because of this, the disease is most common in men between the ages of sixty and seventy as this is the group that commonly worked with asbestos during those years. Because of the lack of protection and regulations in those days, these workers were constantly exposed to the dust and fibres from the asbestos, which caused the cells of the mesothelium to become abnormal. However, because the disease takes decades to develop fully and manifest, many of them were oblivious to this until thirty to fifty years later. It is these men who are now lodging multi-million dollar lawsuits against the unscrupulous companies that exposed them to the dangers of asbestos, even though they were aware that it could cause harm to the employees.

There are also other people at risk from the disease; namely those who have had regular contact with a person who has worked with asbestos. Because these workers regularly carried dust and fibres on their clothes, skin and in their hair, they fibres and dust could be ingested by family members, who were then at risk of developing mesothelioma, respiratory problems or another asbestos related disease.

The organs most affected by mesothelioma are the lungs and the surrounding tissue. Pleural mesothelioma, which is the type affecting the lining of the lungs, is the most common variation of this cancer with symptoms which include breathing and swallowing difficulties, coughing, shortness of breath, fever and weight loss. The abdomen is another area affected by this cancer, and this variation is known as peritoneal mesothelioma. This type of mesothelioma is not as common as pleural mesothelioma. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma can include nausea and vomiting, weight loss and loss of appetite, fever, bowel obstruction and pain or swelling of the stomach area. The last variation of the cancer is pericardial mesothelioma, which is where the cancer affects the heart and the tissue surrounding it. This variation is a rare one, and symptoms can include palpitations, breathing difficulties, and persistent coughing.

The symptoms of mesothelioma are very common to a number of other diseases which are more well-known in society. Therefore, it is not unusual for the patient to be misdiagnosed when he or she goes in displaying any or all of these symptoms. People who have worked with asbestos should always let their doctor know this so that the doctor is more aware and more conscious of the possibilities in the event that the symptoms do manifest. A speedy diagnosis is important to the effective treatment of mesothelioma, and without being aware of the facts your doctor may not be able to make the diagnosis as quickly as he would if he is aware of the situation.

Although there are treatments for mesothelioma, they do not have a high success rate particularly on patients in whom the cancer is in its later stages. The faster the mesothelioma is diagnosed and treated, the more chance of success, which is why it is important to get as fast a diagnosis as possible.

Current treatments for mesothelioma include surgery, radiation therapy, palliative therapy and chemotherapy. The National Institute of Cancer along with a variety of other organizations and sponsors are currently conducting research into mesothelioma and carrying out clinical trials to try and find a treatment that will not only be more effective but will enable the successful treatment of the disease even in its later stages.

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