Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that affects the mesothelium, the cell membrane that lines the lungs and abdomen. The disease is caused by exposure to asbestos fibers.
Mesothelioma is the most serious disease related to asbestos exposure. The disease is rare, with only 2,500 to 3,000 diagnoses reported each year. However, diagnoses did jump between 1970 and 1984, which coincides with the height of industrial asbestos exposure some 40-to-60 years earlier. During that time period, asbestos was prevalent in nearly every U.S. industry, but it was especially common in World War II era industries, such as naval shipyards.
While mesothelioma is mostly seen in men over 60, it has been diagnosed in women and children. This is likely the result of men carrying asbestos fibers home in their clothing.
Mesothelioma may occur when asbestos fibers are inhaled through the nose and mouth, and become embedded in the lining of the lungs, causing harmful inflammation of the pleura. Swallowing asbestos fibers may cause peritoneal mesothelioma, which occurs in the abdomen.
There are three types of mesothelioma:
Mesothelioma is not curable. However, chemotherapy and other treatments can extend life.
Diagnosing mesothelioma can be difficult, because the disease may mimic other conditions. Symptoms typically associated with pleural mesothelioma include:
Those experienced by people with peritoneal mesothelioma may include:
Symptoms associated with pericardial mesothelioma include:
Symptoms of testicular mesothelioma are non-specific. The most consistant is a mass or tumor in the testes, usually discovered during surgery.
Common risk factors for mesothelioma include:
Less common risk factors include:
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