Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Abraham Lebenthal
Mesothelioma Thoracic Surgeon
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Statistics for Mesothelioma
- Less than 3,000 cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S.
- Asbestos exposure is the only cause, and it takes decades to develop after exposure.
- The prognosis is typically poor due to challenges in diagnosis and treatment.
- The four types of mesothelioma are pleural (80%), peritoneal (20%), pericardial (1%) and testicular (rare occurrence).
- Mesothelioma occurs more often in men than women.
- At-risk occupations include military veterans, shipbuilding, construction, electrical work, automobile repair, mining, plumbing, roofing and more.
Asbestos Fibers Entering the Body
Cause of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops due to asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was frequently used throughout many American industries during the 20th century. The mineral was valued for its affordability, durability and resistance to heat.
However, the health risks associated with the substance were unknown to the public until the late 1980s, which was decades after the majority of American buildings, schools, offices, homes and countless other structures, products and materials contained asbestos.
Anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma was likely exposed to asbestos in some way. Asbestos exposure can occur by the slightest disturbance of an asbestos-containing product or material. Since the mineral was used throughout construction and other industries that involve hard labor or power tools, exposure was a common occurrence on job sites.
Drilling, sawing, grinding, hammering, or any other sort of action can disturb asbestos and send microscopic fibers into the air – similar to a cloud of dust. Anyone near the asbestos dust is at risk of exposure.
Without proper protective equipment, one can inhale or swallow the tiny, needle-like fibers, causing mesothelioma among other severe health conditions. The asbestos fibers can become lodged in the protective linings of the lungs, abdomen or heart, causing tissue irritation, cell mutation and the development of mesothelioma.
One of the challenges of mesothelioma is the long latency period, which is the length of time between initial exposure and official diagnosis. It can often last decades, resulting in late-stage diagnosis, difficulty treating the cancer and a poor prognosis.
Who Is at Risk?
The only risk factor for mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Due to the widespread use of asbestos throughout the U.S. in the 20th century, many people are at risk of developing mesothelioma. Exposure to the substance often occurred on job sites or through the use of certain consumer products.
People exposed to asbestos while at work are victims of occupational asbestos exposure and have an increased risk of mesothelioma.
Anyone who worked in these occupations has a higher risk of developing mesothelioma:
- Construction and insulation workers
- Military veterans
- Pipefitters and plumbers
- Automobile mechanics
- Shipbuilders and shipyard workers
Types of Mesothelioma
There are technically four types of mesothelioma. However, two are more commonly diagnosed: pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma. The other two – pericardial mesothelioma and testicular mesothelioma – are rare occurrences.
- Accounts for approximately 75-80% of all mesothelioma cases
- Forms in the lining of your lungs (pleura)
- Main symptoms: Shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent cough, fluid buildup around the lungs (pleural effusions)
- Treatment: Surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation, tumor treating fields and clinical trials
- Accounts for approximately 10-15% of all mesothelioma cases
- Forms in the lining of your abdomen (peritoneum)
- Main symptoms: Abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, abdominal distension and fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
- Treatment: Surgery, chemotherapy, HIPEC (heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy), immunotherapy and clinical trials
- Accounts for approximately 1% of all mesothelioma cases
- Forms in the lining of your heart (pericardium)
- Main symptoms: Shortness of breath, chest pain and irregular heartbeat
- Treatment: Surgery, chemotherapy and clinical trials
- Accounts for less than 1% of all mesothelioma cases
- Forms in the lining of the testes
- Extremely rare occurrence
How To Diagnose Mesothelioma
A biopsy is the only definitive way to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. A biopsy is a surgical procedure required in order to retrieve tissue samples, so a pathology lab can run tests and detect the presence of cancer.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed and frequently mistaken for other illnesses.
We suggest visiting a renowned cancer center with mesothelioma specialists to undergo the required testing for determining an accurate diagnosis of mesothelioma. Tests used to help diagnose mesothelioma include:
- Chest X-ray
- CT scan
- PET scan