Mesothelioma, which is aggressive and deadly, is related to genetic mutations in the cells of the thin tissues, mesothelium which line organs and organ cavities. These mutated cells grow and multiply out of control.
There are three basic types and they are characterized by the areas of the body affected. Pleural mesothelioma involves the lining of the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the abdominal cavity and its organs. The least common type, pericardial mesothelioma, attacks the sac the surrounds the heart.
While some researchers have found a link between the cancer and the Simian Virus 40 (SV40) and radiation therapy, the primary cause of the condition is exposure to asbestos. A naturally-occurring mineral, asbestos is used in modern industrial and commercial enterprises. Used by the Romans for building, asbestos became a cornerstone of the Industrial Revolution as a key element in manufacturing processes, building materials and even school blackboards.
Researchers believe that asbestos causes mesothelioma when asbestos dust is ingested and settles into the lungs, abdomen and even the heart. Over time, the small mineral fibers irritate the organ lining and mesothelioma results.
Symptoms of the condition are dependent upon the area affected. Anemia and weight loss are common. For those with pleural and pericardial mesothelioma, specific problems can include chest pains. Those with peritoneal mesothelioma may experience abdominal pain, bowel obstructions and abdominal swelling. Due to the fact that the symptoms of the disease may be commonly seen in other minor and serious conditions, biopsies, MRIs, CT Scans, and exploratory surgeries may be necessary to confirm the condition.
This cancer can affect workers exposed to asbestos, such as teachers, oil refinery workers, and electrical workers. It can also affect the families and friends of these workers due to secondhand exposure.
Between 1999 and 2005, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported over 18,000 deaths related to malignant mesothelioma in the United States. The government once believed that the number of cases would peak in 2010; however, new information indicates the peak in male cases will be 2020. For people concerned about possible risks, seeking legal advice and medical attention early is the key.
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