Mesothelioma is a deadly cancer that affects the lining of internal organs as a result of asbestos exposure. Despite a decades-long latency period, mesothelioma usually proves deadly within 18 months of diagnosis.
Asbestos is the name of a group of minerals that occur naturally as masses of strong, flexible fibers that can be separated into thin threads and woven. It has been widely used in many industrial products, including cement, brake linings, roof shingles, flooring products, textiles and insulation. If tiny asbestos particles float in the air, especially during the manufacturing process, they may be inhaled or swallowed, and can cause serious health problems.
In addition to mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer, asbestosis (a noncancerous, chronic lung ailment), and other cancers, such as those of the larynx and kidney. The onset of mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos can take anywhere from 15 – 45 years. A person’s life span is typically 12 – 24 months after diagnosis of mesothelioma, but it depends on the size of the cancer, where it is, how far it has spread, how it responds to treatment, the health of the patient, etc.
The real tragedy of mesothelioma is that it is a disease that is easily preventable. But for years, manufacturers hid the dangers of asbestos exposure. Corporate documents from as early as the 1930s note the deadly nature of asbestos, but these findings were never shared with the public, and no measures were taken to protect people exposed to asbestos. Even today, asbestos is not completely banned in the United States, even though research has proven there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
Early symptoms of mesothelioma can be very general. Thus, they are often ignored, or mesothelioma may be misdiagnosed. Mesothelioma may affect three different areas in the body, the chest (pleural mesothelioma), the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), or, rarely, the heart (pericardial mesothelioma). Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma (lining of the chest) can include:
- pain in the lower back or at the side of the chest
- shortness of breath
- trouble swallowing
- feeling tired / fatigue
- weight loss
- swelling of the face and arms
- muscle weakness
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma (lining of the abdominal cavity) include:
- abdominal pain, sometimes severe
- weight loss
- fluid or a lump in the abdomen
Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma (lining of the heart) include:
- constrictive pericarditis
- pericardial effusion
- cardiac tamponade
- heart failure caused by myocardial infarction
Other symptoms include persistent coughing and coughing blood. Diagnosing mesothelioma is often difficult, because the symptoms are similar to those of a number of other conditions. If you have worked with asbestos or may have been exposed to asbestos in the environment and you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor right away. There is no known cure for mesothelioma.