- Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that occurs in the lining of the lungs and, less commonly, in the lining of the abdomen
- 8/10 people with mesothelioma report asbestos exposure, which is why it is considered the biggest risk factor of developing this disease
- There are approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma every year in the US. The number of cases has been declining since the early 1990s, most likely due to a reduction in workplace exposure to asbestos
- Although treatments for mesothelioma are improving, it remains an aggressive and deadly form of cancer
How Mesothelioma Affects The Body
Mesothelioma starts when a cell’s DNA experiences change and cause the cell to receive the wrong information and multiply. This out of control cell growth results in a tumor.
Scientists do not know exactly what causes mesothelioma. However, researchers have identified factors that are proven to increase the risk for developing this cancer. Although it is not the only factor, asbestos exposure is strongly linked to the development of mesothelioma.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can travel into airways and irritate the lung lining. This irritation results in inflammation and damage that can eventually lead to the creation of cancer cells. There are other areas in the body with a lining similar to the pleura that can also be affected, although this is much less.
As mesothelioma progresses, it may result in fluid accumulation in the pleural space between the lung and the chest wall, which causes chest pain and shortness of breath. If left untreated, mesothelioma often spreads to the lymph nodes and progresses quickly, resulting in death.
Who Is at Risk of Developing Mesothelioma?
The primary risk factor for mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a heat and fire-resistant mineral fiber that was used in insulation and fire-retardant materials before the 1970s. Though its use has been banned for more than 30 years, occupations such as mining or milling, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, insulators or even remodelers of older homes still have a high risk of exposure to asbestos. The longer you are exposed to large amounts of asbestos, the more likely you are to develop mesothelioma. However, most people with asbestos exposure never develop mesothelioma.
If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos at work or home, there are steps you can take to limit your exposure and reduce your risk of developing mesothelioma. Ask your current employer if you are at risk of inhaling asbestos at your job. Make sure to follow all safety regulations that your employer has outlined, including wearing protective equipment or showering and changing out of work clothes before returning home. If you live in an older home, it is much safer to leave asbestos where it is than remove it. Breaking up asbestos fibers will release them into the air, making them easy to inhale into the lungs. If you believe your home has asbestos, contact a professional to test the air to determine if you are at risk of exposure.
Other risk factors include, but are not limited to, radiation therapy, age, and genetics. Radiation exposure pertains particularly to patients who have received high doses of radiation therapy to the chest, such as lymphoma patients. Although the risk of mesothelioma increases with age, even children who have received radiation therapy can get the disease. Approximately 1% of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma have inherited a genetic mutation from a parent that has put them at an increased risk of developing the disease.