Mesothelioma 101: How the Disease Affects Everyday Life

July 28, 2018
How the Disease Affects Everyday Life

Mesothelioma is a deadly disease whose name may be familiar to most because of its presence in TV and radio ads. The true toll of the disease or its origins, however, are likely not well understood. For starters, mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops in what is known as the mesothelium. The mesothelium refers to the lining of various organs, including the lungs, heart, and several organs in the abdominal cavity.

Because it affects the lining of organs, it is referred to as a sarcoma rather than the more common carcinoma which affects connective tissue. The cancer took the lives of over 45,000 people from the United States between 1999 and 2015, and 3,000 new diagnoses are made each year. Most patients who receive a diagnosis live for only around a year after.

The main issue with treating mesothelioma is its relative scarcity compared to other types of cancer. It is around 100 times less common than lung cancer, reducing its ability to be thoroughly researched. Screening for mesothelioma is non-existent, and the most common method of diagnosing the disease (an invasive biopsy that removes potentially affected tissue) is unreliable.

Still, clinical research continues and new treatment options are always on the horizon. The disease even has its own Mesothelioma Awareness Day on September 26.

The Origins of Mesothelioma

Where and how does mesothelioma actually originate, though? What is clear after decades of research is that exposure to asbestos is the primary reason for the incidence of mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma (a type of the disease that occurs in the lining of the lungs) is the most common at about 90% of the cases. It can take decades (usually between 20 and 40 years, but occasionally shorter or longer than that) for the affected cells to become cancerous and for symptoms to begin showing.

The most common demographic of mesothelioma sufferers is older men because of the prevalence of asbestos in the workplace between the 1940s and 1970s. But, older men don’t account for all cases of mesothelioma.

In fact, women are the fastest-growing contingent of mesothelioma patients in the United States. One woman in Minnesota came down with the disease in 2005 even though she never worked in an asbestos-filled environment. Her father, however, was a miner and would bring home asbestos in his clothes on a daily basis.

Shortly after giving birth, the woman began to feel extreme fatigue, even to the point of losing consciousness after ascending stairs. Her doctor initially chalked it up to an iron deficiency associated with giving birth. But the symptoms persisted. The doctor then performed a chest x-ray on the woman, revealing a pool of fluid in her lungs.

The woman was admitted to the hospital to have the fluid drained. The dark brown color of the fluid, however, was cause for concern. After a biopsy, it was revealed that the woman did, in fact, have mesothelioma. Fortunately for her, she was able to undergo an experimental procedure in Boston that removed her left lung, left diaphragm half, and heart lining. Twelve years after the surgery, she continues to live on.

How to Avoid Asbestos

For the most part, exposure to asbestos is limited in this day and age. While it’s still legal to import asbestos products into the United States, the substance is not nearly as prevalent as it once was. In order to avoid acquiring mesothelioma, it’s important to assess your asbestos risk.

For instance, if you’re moving into a house that was built prior to 1980, then there’s a good chance that asbestos lurks somewhere in there. If you don’t plan on doing any new construction in the house, then you should be fine for the most part. Before you do any kind of remodel, however, you should contact an asbestos removal specialist to get the material out of your house safely.

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, call or email us for a free consultation.