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What is Mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma is a disease in which a cancerous tumor grows on the mesothelium - the sac lining the internal body cavities. The specific type of mesothelioma is named for the tissue where the cancer started. Pleural mesothelioma starts in the chest, in the pleura that surrounds the lungs (outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall). It makes up about 70% of mesothelioma cases. Peritoneal mesothelioma starts in the lining of the abdominal cavity.
Referred sometimes to as "asbestos lung cancer", mesothelioma is not the same as lung cancer. Lung cancers occur inside the lung itself; mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the lung. Mesothelioma is rare, striking fewer than 3000 Americans per year.
The cancerous cells clump together in a malignant tumor. As it grows, the tumor pushes against and into other organs and healthy tissue, causing symptoms. Because the mesothelium is a flat thin lining, the mesothelioma tumor often takes a diffuse shape.
In its advanced stage the cancer metastasizes through the lymph system and spreads to other parts of the body. It is still referred to as mesothelioma because it started in the mesothelium.
It is important to seek professional medical advice when trying to diagnose for mesothelioma because the symptoms can be confused with symptoms of other diseases.
Major symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
Shortness of breath caused by expanding pleural effusion
Persistent dry cough
Major symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include:
Ascites (fluid in the abdomen)
Swelling or lumps in the abdomen
Some patients experience few of the visible symptoms. Formal diagnostic procedures are needed to determine if the cancer is present.
Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos, once regarded as a miracle mineral, was popular due its lightweight but tough characteristics as well as for its heat-resistant properties. This naturally occurring mineral was used in many commercial and consumer products, from construction materials such as cement, roofing shingles and insulation, to consumer and industrial applications such as hair dryers, automobile brake pads and pipe insulation.
Most people with malignant mesothelioma worked on jobs where they breathed asbestos. Others were exposed to asbestos in a household environment, often without knowing it.
Very little exposure can result in mesothelioma. Sometimes people who worked with asbestos for as little as one or two months get mesothelioma. The "latency period" refers to the time between asbestos exposure and diagnosis of the disease. For mesothelioma, the latency period can be decades long, and people exposed in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s are now being diagnosed.
Scientists and doctors are conducting research at cancer centers all over the United States.
Researchers are continually developing new and more effective drugs as well as new surgical and radiotherapy
treatment techniques. In the past few years, there have been several major advances in the management
of mesothelioma, including more accurate staging, improvements in surgical techniques and postoperative care,
new chemotherapy regimens, and new radiotherapy techniques such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy.
Some of this research is being conducted through clinical trials on meothelioma patients, for which you may be eligible.
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