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What is Mesothelioma

Posted on Tuesday 15th July 2014 by Graham

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer most often caused by exposure to asbestos. Although now banned – the legacy left by asbestos affects many thousands of people around the world to this day.

Asbestos was a really useful and inexpensive naturally occurring mineral that had many commercial and industrial applications – and so was used extensively, particularly from the mid nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries. Asbestos related diseases are generally contracted after prolonged exposure, often taking many years before the effects become apparent. This deadly mineral still remains in some older buildings and facilities today. People who worked with asbestos - even many years ago – are still today being diagnosed with Mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a tumour of the mesothelium; the thin membrane lining that covers the outer surface of many of our body's internal organs. The disease often lays dormant for many years before discovery and eventual diagnosis. The thermal characteristics, toughness, and relative cheapness of asbestos meant it had many uses, in many industries, including;

  • Construction
  • Railways
  • Shipbuilding
  • Automotive

As a result, many tens of thousands of people are still suffering the deadly effects of asbestos today. Due to the lengthy period of dormancy associated with Mesothelioma, it is expected diagnosis of new cases will continue for some years to come.

The symptoms of mesothelioma can be mistaken for other more common ailments, and can go undiagnosed for a long time.

Malignant mesothelioma is a most aggressive form of cancer. Two examples of mesothelium cancer include;

  • Pleural mesothelioma - which affects the membrane lining of the lungs and chest cavity.
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma - which affects the membrane lining of the organs in the abdomen.

Mesothelioma can lay dormant for a long time, which can be anything from 10 years to 30 and even 40 years. As a consequence of this latency period, the cancer has by the time of diagnosis progressed into its final stages. And by this time it is too late - the damage cannot be reversed - and the disease no cure.

Types of mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma

The symptoms and signs of pleural mesothelioma - the form of cancer which affects the lungs and chest cavity includes;

  • Chest pains
  • Fluid surrounding the lung (Pleural effusion)
  • A shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • General fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Persistent coughing
  • Blood in the sputum, coughing up blood
  • Unexplained weight loss

Peritoneal mesothelioma

Peritoneal mesothelioma is the type of cancer that attacks the protective membrane lining of the abdomen. The symptoms of this form of cancer are often not obvious until the later stages of the disease and include:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Abdominal distension
  • Bowel function irregularities
  • Nausea and appetite suppression
  • Weight loss

Mesothelioma cancers are the direct result of inhalation or ingestion of toxic asbestos fibres which cause a genetic mutation of healthy mesothelial cells. The healthy mesothelial cells – following prolonged exposure - eventually die and are replaced by cancerous tumours. Asbestos exposure is almost the only cause of mesothelioma. Lung cancer is more generally caused by smoking tobacco or exposure to radon.

Diagnosis of Mesothelioma

Although diagnosis of this type of cancer is difficult, oncologists have at their disposal a number of methods to help confirmation, including chest X-ray and CT scan assessment. Suspicious findings are then usually confirmed by examining serous effusion cytology, or tissue sampling (biopsy).

Prognosis of Mesothelioma

Treatment of mesothelioma may include, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and in some cases surgery. However, this form of cancer carries a poor prognosis.

Education of the risks and training of those within the asbestos industry are important tools in eradicating these deadly diseases

Greater awareness regarding the risks associated with asbestos, and the training of both management and personnel involved in the production and use of this material will improve mortality rates and lower the number of new cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases.

If you are suspicious and believe you may have asbestos on your property, or have asbestos you wish removed, or just want some further advice then contact one of our qualified advisors here at

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