Understanding Mesothelioma

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer. It involves the cells that line the lungs, abdominal organs and heard; that lining is called the mesothelium. In the most common form of mesothelioma, malignant tumors grow on the sac that lines the chest cavity and protects the lungs—the pleura. This is known as pleural mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is uncommon. About 2,000-3,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S.

Who gets Mesothelioma?

Approximately 70 to 80 percent of people who get mesothelioma have been heavily exposed to asbestos at work. Usually, the disease shows up 35 to 50 years after exposure, so most people with it are over the age of 65. Mostly men get the disease, but women can also get mesothelioma. It is most common in whites.

What Causes Mesothelioma?

Working with asbestos is the main cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos is a group of minerals that has been used widely in the U.S. since the 1940s. It is used in cement, brake linings, roof shingles, flooring products, textiles, and insulation. If tiny asbestos particles float in the air, people can breathe them in or swallow them. This is especially dangerous in the manufacturing process. Those particles can cause several cancers, including mesothelioma. Shipyard workers, people who work in asbestos mines and mills, producers of asbestos products, workers in the heating and construction industries, and other tradespeople are at higher risk for mesothelioma. It may take 30-50 years after someone is exposed to asbestos before any symptoms of mesothelioma appear.

Scientists believe that smoking does not increase the risk of mesothelioma. Combining smoking and asbestos exposure, though, greatly increases your risk of developing lung cancer.

How Serious is Mesothelioma?

Often, by the time mesothelioma is diagnosed, it is in an advanced stage because it takes too long for symptoms to appear.

The success of the treatment and how well a person responds depends in part on age, their overall health, and their heart health.

Because diagnosis often is made at an advanced stage of the cancer, average survival time is only about one year. Five-year survival rates are slowly improving, and scientists are testing new treatments in the final stage of research (clinical trials).