Mesothelioma symptoms typically take 15 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos to appear. As such, mesothelioma is generally regarded as an adult disease. But pediatric mesothelioma also exists, albeit very rarely compared to its adult counterpart, and researchers are making progress to better understand how this disease can affect children, adolescents and young adults.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, a fibrous fire-resistant mineral used in construction and shipbuilding materials and friction products, such as brake linings for trains and cars.
Mesothelioma tumors develop in the mesothelium, the lining of certain internal organs. About 75% of mesothelioma cases are pleural mesothelioma that affects the lungs and chest wall. Most of the remaining cases are peritoneal mesotheliomas that develop in the peritoneum, which lines the inside of the abdomen and many of the abdominal organs. Two rarer forms of mesothelioma are pericardial, which affect the lining of the heart, and tunica vaginalis, which lines the testicles.
About 2,500 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year in the United States. Because the disease is usually linked to industrial operations where asbestos is used, it occurs more often in men. The disease can also be caused by second-hand exposure to asbestos, such as bringing asbestos fibers into the home on work clothes, and by exposure to talcum used for personal hygiene, baby powders, and in some cosmetics. The average age of those diagnosed is 69.
While there are some treatments for mesothelioma, most patients survive just one to two years after diagnosis.
How does mesothelioma affect children?
Because it is so rare, relatively little is known about pediatric mesothelioma, but some efforts are underway to better understand how the disease affects pediatric patients.
Last month, the European Journal of Cancer published a study by a group of European and Israeli doctors that sought to characterize pediatric mesothelioma.
The retrospective study, “Mesothelioma in children and adolescents: the European Cooperative Study Group for Pediatric Rare Tumors,” identified 33 cases of pediatric mesothelioma, 15 in male patients and 19 in female patients. The patients were 21 or younger with a median age of 14 years.
The primary tumor was mainly in the peritoneum (23 patients). Histology was multicystic mesothelioma of the peritoneum (MCM) (six patients) or malignant mesothelioma (MM) (27 patients).
According to Cancer Therapy Advisor, the researchers found the primary location of the tumor was peritoneal among 70% of patients, followed by pleural in 15%, multiple sites in 9%, and the vagina in 6%.
The most common symptoms at the time of diagnosis among the 27 patients with malignant mesothelioma were abdominal enlargement, abdominal or thoracic pain, poor general status, and difficult or labored breathing. Of the six patients with multicystic mesothelioma of the peritoneum, the most common symptoms at diagnosis were abdominal pain, poor general status, abdominal enlargement, painful scrotal mass, anemia, and fever.
The study authors also noted the treatments patients received and their responses.
Although the number of cases covered by the study was small, the researchers were able to document some differences among pediatric mesothelioma patients compared to mesothelioma in older patients.
Unlike adult cases of mesothelioma in which there is often some known exposure to asbestos, there were few known exposures among pediatric patients. The study noted that just one patient’s exposure to asbestos, the only known cause of mesothelioma, was documented.
Peritoneal mesothelioma was also the primary form of the disease among pediatric patients, compared to adult patients in which pleural mesothelioma is the dominant form. Pediatric patients also had a better prognosis than adults diagnosed with the disease. Researchers noted that “relapses could be salvaged with active therapy” in the young patients, whereas it is usually unsuccessful in adult patients.
Mesothelioma and the law
Beasley Allen lawyers handle mesothelioma claims. We are looking at cases of industrial, occupational and secondary asbestos exposure resulting in lung cancer or mesothelioma as well as claims of asbestos-related talc products linked to mesothelioma. Charlie Stern in our Toxic Torts Section is the lead attorney working on these types of cases. As an experienced mesothelioma lawyer, Charlie is well equipped to tackle asbestos cases, which are highly complicated and require someone with a true understanding of the facts, medical issues, science and law. He is working together with Will Sutton, an experienced lawyer in our Toxic Torts Section. Contact us for more information.