Define Mesothelioma

By Sandra Oertell, Guest Editor

You can’t even turn on the television without seeing an ad by some lawyer who is working a class action suit for people who have mesothelioma.  To get a clear understanding of what is going on, let’s define mesothelioma, and learn not only what it is, but how you get it and what your options are.

The short answer is that it is a tumor of mesothelial tissue, most often found to be malignant, that is usually located in the peritoneum or pleura. The peritoneum is the lining of the abdominal cavity, and the pleura is the outer lining of the internal chest wall and the lungs. But mesothelioma is also found in the heart or the pericardium, which is the sac that contains the heart, and the tunica vaginalis.

But it is not enough to just define mesothelioma. You also need to know how you get it. Oil refinery workers, people who served in the navy and worked in the boiler rooms of ships, miners and smelters, workers involved in the manufacture and repair of automobiles, construction workers, military personnel who were exposed to asbestos…ANYONE WHO HAS BEEN EXPOSED TO ASBESTOS, is a candidate for this disease.

Symptoms of this condition should be part of the mesothelioma definition.  Unexplained weight loss, chest pain, and shortness of breath indicate the possibility of pleural effusion, which is fluid gathering between the wall of the chest and the lungs. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor at once, especially if you know you have been exposed to asbestos.

Sometimes it is discovered while taking a chest X-ray or a CT scan.  Then a biopsy would be taken, using a thorascope. Radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery may be tried, but the prognosis is not very good.  Unfortunately, as with all cancers, early detection is important, and there are no good screening tests yet.

For 100 Questions and Answers About Mesothelioma, click the link.

The definition of mesothelioma is a grim one. While it is considered to be a rare form of cancer, in that about 70-80 % of the time it is contracted by people who have inhaled asbestos, it is a killer. For many years asbestos has been used in brake linings, textiles, flooring, cement, roof shingles, and worst of all, in insulation. And other conditions arise from inhaling and swallowing asbestos; cancers of the lungs, the kidneys, and the larynx.

We need to do more than define mesothelioma…we need to find better screening and treatment methods.

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