Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops from transformed cells originating in
the mesothelium, the protective lining that covers many of the internal organs of the body. It is usually caused by
exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma develops in the pleura (the outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall),
but it can also arise in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity), and the pericardium (the sac that
surrounds the heart).
Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked in jobs where they inhaled asbestos, or were exposed to asbestos dust and fibers in other ways. It has also been suggested that washing clothes of a family member who worked with asbestos increases their risk for developing mesothelioma.
Symptoms or signs of mesothelioma may not appear until 20 to 50 years (or more) after exposure to asbestos. Shortness of breath, cough, and pain in the chest due to an accumulation of fluid in the pleural space (pleural effusion) are often symptoms of pleural mesothelioma.
Exposure to asbestos fibers has been recognized as an occupational health hazard since the early 20th century. Numerous epidemiological studies have associated occupational exposure to asbestos with the development of pleural plaques, diffuse pleural thickening, asbestosis, carcinoma of the lung and larynx, gastrointestinal tumors, and diffuse malignant mesothelioma of the pleura and peritoneum. Asbestos has been widely used in many industrial products, including cement, brake linings, gaskets, roof shingles, flooring products, textiles, and insulation.
Treatment for mesothelioma is still being researched for effectiveness. As incidences of mesothelioma diagnoses rise, the need for treatment is more imperative. Because asbestos is still being used despite being "banned", people are still at risk. The victims and responders of 9-11 are developing mesothelioma at a faster rate than others, because of the density of exposure. Continued efforts of organizations like the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, and of doctors and scientists focused on finding a treatment, will be the only hope for those affected by exposure. Breathing is something we can take for granted until we watch someone we love struggle for each breath. We will make a difference.