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Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive disease that starts in the lining of the chest, heart, or abdomen. This form of cancer affects more than 3,000 people each year in the United States. By the time the symptoms appear, the tumor is often advanced. Malignant mesothelioma manifests itself 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos.
Causes and Risk Factors
Long term exposure to asbestos is the most important risk factor. Most individuals who develop malignant mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they inhaled or swallowed asbestos fibers. When inhaled, these fibers stick to mucus in the bronchi, trachea, or throat. They affect the mesothelial cells of the pleura, causing inflammation and scarring. Asbestos fibers can reach the abdominal cavity, and eventually cause peritoneal mesothelioma.
Auto mechanics, construction workers, chemical technicians, painters, and insulators present a high risk of developing malignant mesothelioma. These individuals have worked with ceiling tiles, adhesives, cement, paint, glue, and other products containing asbestos. Exposure to asbestos fibers may also cause asbestosis, a non-cancerous form of lung disease.
In over 80% of cases, asbestos exposure is the main cause of malignant mesothelioma. Other risk factors include radiation treatments, erionite exposure, nanotube exposure, smoking, and infection with the SV40 virus. Some experts believe that family history may play a role in whether or not a person develops asbestos cancer.
Symptoms of Malignant Mesothelioma
This rare form of cancer has non specific symptoms that resemble those triggered by hernia, bronchitis, asthma, and other health problems with less serious complications. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of asbestos cancer and affects the thin membrane covering the lungs. The main symptoms associated with this disease include shortness of breath, weight loss, localized chest pain, pleural effusion, hoarseness, and hemoptysis. This deathly cancer accounts for up to 75 percent of all mesothelioma cases. The tumor is generally detected in late stages.
Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the thin layer of cells surrounding the stomach area. Its main symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, muscle weakness, bowel obstruction, and anemia. Just like other forms of asbestos cancer, peritoneal mesothelioma has non specific symptoms that are often associated with stomach ailments, infections, hernia, and other non-cancerous illnesses. Statistics show that less than 10 percent of all mesothelioma patients live another five years after diagnosis.
Pericardial mesothelioma develops in lining of the heart, causing arrhythmia, severe chest pain, palpitations, and extreme fatigue after minimal activity. Patients may also experience difficulty breathing, heart murmurs, fever, and chronic cough.
Malignant Mesothelioma Prognosis
The average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients ranges between four and 18 months. There are several factors that help determine the life expectancy of a person diagnosed with this disease, including the age of the patient, type of cancer, extent of the tumor, and latency period. Stage 1 patients have an average life expectancy of five years. Stage 2 mesothelioma patients live up to four years after diagnosis. If the tumor is detected in stage 3, the patient will live another eight months.
To learn more about malignant mesothelioma and find an appropriate treatment, contact your physician as soon as possible. Detecting this rare form of cancer in early stages will increase your life expectancy.