Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen (the mesothelium). The mesothelium is important because the lungs, heart and stomach are constantly in motion, and the cells in the mesothelium provide lubrication and assist in organ function. There is no cure, and the relative 5-year survival rate is between 5% and 10%. But how does one develop mesothelioma- and are YOU at risk?
Mesothelioma is mainly caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos occurs naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers. Small, individual fibers are too small to be seen with the naked eye, and if they’re breathed in, a buildup of fibers can cause plenty of lung problems- including mesothelioma.
Because of its durability and resistance to heat and chemicals, asbestos was commonly used in many different industries for years. However, in the later 1900s, asbestos-related cancers became better understood. Laboratory studies with rodents have confirmed the link between asbestos exposure and cancer.
Since the mid 1970s, its use has been significantly decreased, but asbestos exposure is still a concern when working with older building materials. The World Trade Center, for example, was built at a time when asbestos was very common in building materials. It’s estimated that 400 tons of asbestos were used in its construction, and when the buildings collapsed, the EPA reports that asbestos was “pulverized” into fine particles and scattered over Lower Manhattan. In 2006, researchers estimated that almost 70% of recovery personnel had suffered from lung problems, and it’s expected that in the years to come, more first responders and workers that assisted in the cleanup will be diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Awareness is key. The use of asbestos is regulated by OSHA and the EPA, and anyone who believes they may come in contact with asbestos in their workplace can contact OSHA for more information on regulations and safe practices. In the meanwhile, researchers continue to look for answers. Animal research has helped lead to two approved chemotherapy medications for mesothelioma, and researchers are continuing to work on gene therapies, new ways to target cancer cells, and more efficient methods to deliver radiation.
To find out more about this disease, visit the pages listed below and follow the links in this article. To spread awareness, you can start by sharing this article on social media. We’d love to hear your thoughts- has this disease touched you or your family? What do YOU want people to know about mesothelioma? Leave your comments below.