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About Malignant Mesothelioma
Malignant Mesothelioma begins in tissue that surrounds and supports the different organs in the body. This protective tissue is called mesothelium and serves to protect the lungs, heart and stomach by producing a special fluid that allows the organs to move freely. Tumors that begin here are very dangerous because of their proximity to the lungs, heart and abdominal organs. Although these tumors can be benign and non-cancerous, they are more often malignant and cancerous.
According to reported studies malignant mesotheloma is a very rare form of cancer. Doctors only diagnose two to three thousand cases per year in the United States, with men three to five times more than women likely to get the disease. Although rare, the incidents of Malignant Mesotheloma appear to be on the rise.
The National Cancer Institute defines Malignant Mesothelioma as "a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the sac lining the chest, the lining of the abdominal cavity or the lining around the heart." There are three main types of malignant mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma refers to a cancer of the lining of the lung (pleura). Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum). While pericardial mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining surrounding the heart (pericardium). About three-fourths of mesotheliomas start in the chest cavity. Another 10 to 20 percent begin in the abdomen, while those starting around the heart are very rare.
Although rare, Malignant Mesothelioma represents a serious health threat to those diagnosed. Because it often becomes advanced before symptoms appear the outlook is not as good as it is for cancers that doctors find earlier. About half of the patients whose doctors find and treated the cancer early will survive two years or more. The average survival time for all stages of Malignant Mesothelioma is about one year.
What Causes Malignant Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is caused by inhaling asbestos. When a person breathes in asbestos fibers, they travel to the ends of the small air passages, and lodge in the lining of the lungs. These asbestos fibers interfere with mesothelial cells, in complex ways that doctors do not fully understand. In some cases they fibers cause scarring of the lungs called asbestosis, which is not cancerous. However, these fibers can trigger tumor growth many years after they are inhaled. When swallowed, asbestos fibers can also reach the lining of the abdominal cavity where they play a part in causing a cancer called peritoneal mesothelioma.
A latency period of 20 to 50 years or more between initial exposure and development of mesothelioma exists. While researchers document the average latency period as between 35 and 40 years, they have documented many instances when the period was less than 20 years.
The chances of suffering from mesothelioma rise with the intensity and duration of exposure to asbestos; however, numerous cases of mesothelioma occurred among people with very little occupational exposure or household exposure. Cases exist of people getting mesothelioma 30 or 40 years after a summer job working construction, and housewives or children being exposed from work clothing.
Prior to the mid-1970's, most insulation materials contained asbestos. Many other construction materials also contained asbestos, including, pipe insulation, boiler insulation, fireproofing spray, roof, floor and ceiling tiles, transite siding, and brakes shoes and clutches.
Because occupational exposure to asbestos often accounts for the most prolonged and intense exposure to asbestos, many people who worked with asbestos now suffer from mesothelioma. Among those trades in which a risk of asbestos exposure existed are insulators who installed asbestos insulation, boilermakers who constructed massive boilers filled with asbestos insulation, plumbers, pipefitters and steam fitters who fitted and welded pipes together and often worked in small unventilated compartments in ships where large quantities of insulation were used, plasterers who worked with fireproofing spray on steel beams, shipyard workers, electricians and mechanics, bricklayers, millwrights, carpenters, steel workers, refinery and industrial workers, and maintenance workers.
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