Mesothelioma is a disease in which malignant cancer cells are found in the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a protective sac that covers most of the bodies major organs.
The mesothelium is made up of two layers of cells:
One layer immediately surrounds the organ;
The other layer forms a sac around it.
The mesothelium produces a lubricating fluid that is released between these layers. The purpose of this lubricating fluid is to allow moving organs, such as the heart and lungs to glide against adjacent structures.
Malignant mesothelioma is a disease in which cancerous cells in the mesothelium grow to an abnormal size and divide uncontrollably. During this process these malignant mesothelioma cells will invade and contaminate nearby organs and tissues.
Cases of malignant mesothelioma have increased over the last 20 years, but despite this, mesothelioma is still a comparatively rare form of cancer with about 2000 new cases a year being diagnosed in the United States.
Malignant mesothelioma occurs much more in men than in women and you’re much more likely to contract it when you’re old than young.
Working with asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma – only 20% to 30% of reported cases occur in people who have no known history of exposure to asbestos.
There is some evidence that family members and close acquaintances of those who’ve worked with asbestos are themselves at greater risk than the population at large of developing malignant mesothelioma.
The symptoms of mesothelioma may not develop until 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. Symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pain, weight loss, abdominal pain and swelling of the abdomen, bowel obstruction leading to constipation, problematic blood-clotting, anemia and fever.
If the malignant mesothelioma has spread beyond the mesothelium, pain may be experienced in these other body parts and there may be swelling e.g. in the neck or face leading to trouble swallowing.
It must be stressed that all of the above symptoms can have causes other than malignant mesothelioma. It is important that a properly-qualified medical doctor be consulted, because only a doctor can provide a diagnosis.
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