Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
The disease forms on the mesothelium — a protective lining that covers the lungs, abdomen, heart and testes.
Tumors can be benign (noncancerous). But when tumors are cancerous, doctors call the disease malignant mesothelioma. It is often shortened to mesothelioma.
The American Cancer Society records about 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma each year in the U.S.
Asbestos remains the primary cause of mesothelioma.
Cancer develops when a person ingests asbestos, and it causes changes to a person’s DNA. Our genes are made of DNA. Some of the genes in our body control how cells grow, multiply and die. Changes in our genes may cause cells to divide out of control and may lead to cancer.
Development of Mesothelioma
- A person inhales or swallows airborne asbestos fibers.
- The asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart.
- The embedded fibers damage the mesothelial cells and cause inflammation.
- Over time, tumors begin to form on the damaged mesothelium.
Common Mesothelioma Symptoms
- Dry coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Respiratory complications
- Pain in the chest or abdomen
- Fever or night sweats
- Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
- Weakness in the muscles
These mesothelioma symptoms usually do not show until tumors have grown and spread. Mesothelioma latency is 20-50 years. That’s how long it takes from initial exposure to accurate diagnosis. For that reason, many people with mesothelioma are in their 60s or 70s.
You should talk to a mesothelioma specialist soon if you have a history of asbestos exposure and experience these symptoms. An early diagnosis may improve your prognosis and life expectancy.