Mesothelioma is caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that is often used as an inexpensive way to produce a number of products – from toys to automobiles. The use of asbestos has been banned in many countries, after it was labeled by the World Health Organization as one of the most dangerous carcinogens. However, this ban came only in recent years after people, exposed to asbestos in their workplace sometimes over the course of a lifetime, began to fall ill.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma is often not discovered till the cancer is malignant, as its symptoms often mimic that of a common cold. There are three different types: Pleural, Peritoneal, and Pericardial, each named according to where they can be found in the body.
This type of mesothelioma is found in the pleural sac, which surrounds the lungs. It’s estimated that 75% of diagnosed mesothelioma cases as pleural, making it the most common type. Because asbestos is often dispersed in the air as tiny fibers, it’s possible for these fibers to be inhaled into the lungs before moving out of the lungs and into the pleural cavity. As they do so, they can destroy the protective lining of the lungs, causing a build up of fluid between the lung and the chest cavity.
peritoneal mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer and can be found in the stomach and abdomen area. However, the cancer can spread from these areas to the rest of the body. Asbestos can affect the organs in the abdominal area, penetrating the stomach lining and causing abdominal swelling; as the asbestos fibers infiltrate the stomach, they can turn into cancerous mesothelioma cells. Unfortunately, other symptoms – such as stomach pain, weight loss and nausea, to name a few – are similar to flu-like symptoms or complaints when dealing with other illness and often go mis- or un-diagnosed.
Lastly, pericardial mesothelioma is a less common form of cancer. It affects the pericardial sac that surrounds the heart and provides lubrication so it can beat correctly. Again, asbestos fibers are inhaled and can make their way to the pericardial sac, working their way through the sac, shredding the pericardium and causing cancerous cells to build up. Decades can pass as this happens, and a diagnosis can come at the tail end of the disease. Pericardial mesothelioma accounts for around five percent of diagnosed cases.
While there isn’t any cure for mesothelioma, a number of factors influence treatment and life expectancy. Some common courses are chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery to remove the cancer if possible. Early diagnosis is, of course, helpful in extending life expectancy.
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