If you have ever been exposed to asbestos in your lifetime, you’re at a greater risk of being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma at some point in your life. Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that most often forms in the lungs, chest wall, or abdomen and may also affect the heart or testicles. While malignant mesothelioma is rare, affecting about 3,000 people per year, the diagnosis is often an advanced stage due to the latency period that can be anywhere from 10 to 50 years.
Asbestos is a natural silicate mineral that was popularly used in a variety of products (particularly between the 1930’s and ‘50s), from housing materials to automotive parts, for its heat-resistant and fire-proof properties. It wasn’t until the 1970’s, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) began to ban the use of asbestos in certain products, that people started to take notice that asbestos may actually be harmful to the environment and to individuals who work with or live around it.
Any home or industrial building that was built prior to 1980 may have been constructed or insulated with asbestos related materials and while the risk of exposure may be low, particularly when such materials are in good condition and have not been manipulated, no exposure to asbestos is considered “safe”.
Individuals who worked in an occupational field that had contact with asbestos related materials are at a greater risk of developing malignant mesothelioma. Such occupations may include, but are not limited to: electricians, mechanics, HVAC workers, Navy shipyard workers, firefighters, and construction workers. Additionally, family members of individuals who worked with or around asbestos may also be at a high risk due to the exposure carried on the skin or clothing.
Signs & Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of malignant mesothelioma may vary depending on where the cancer occurs and how advanced the cancer may be. According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of pleural mesothelioma (which affects the lungs) includes, but is not limited to: chest pain under the rib cage, painful coughing, shortness of breath, and unusual lumps under the chest. Peritoneal mesothelioma (which affects the abdomen) may be identified through abdominal pain and swelling, lumps in the abdomen, and unexplained weight loss. If mesothelioma affects the heart or testicles, individuals may experience pain and swelling in the affected area.
Since the signs and symptoms of malignant mesothelioma are similar to other types of illness or disease, it’s important to visit a doctor as soon as possible and be sure to report if you know or suspect that you have been exposed to asbestos.
Like other types of cancer, your doctor will discuss treatment options once the malignant mesothelioma is found and staged. Treatment plans vary based upon the location and size of the tumor and whether or not it has spread to lymph nodes, organs, and other parts of your body. The most common treatment options include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of any of the treatments. Since malignant mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer, there is no “tried and true” treatment and some individuals, under the guidance of their doctors, may be able to try alternative treatments or be eligible for clinical trials.