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Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos. It usually affects the thin, protective membrane surrounding the lungs, heart or abdominal cavity. Doctors diagnose an estimated 3,000 cases of mesothelioma a year in the United States, and the majority of those are traced to job-related exposure.
Although asbestos use declined dramatically in recent decades in this country, the incidence of mesothelioma remains steady. That difference can be traced to the distinct latency period linked to mesothelioma. The disease can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos before it shows obvious symptoms and an oncologist can make a definitive diagnosis. While no cure for the disease exists and the prognosis is typically poor, researchers made significant progress in recent years in understanding mesothelioma and developing new treatment options and alternative therapies.
How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma cancer develops after exposure to asbestos, which most often occurs in the workplace – in industrial settings, shipyards, auto repair shops, old houses, schools and public buildings. It usually takes long-term exposure to put someone at risk, asbestos is highly toxic. Even short-term and one-time exposures are known to cause mesothelioma cancer.
How Mesothelioma is Caused
Microscopic asbestos fibers are breathed in or swallowed. The human body has difficulty destroying or getting rid of these fibers. Over decades, the fibers cause biological changes that result in inflammation, scarring and genetic damage. The most susceptible area to these fibers is the lining of the lungs, called the pleura, although fibers also can become trapped in the lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum). Once fibers cause biological damage, the stage is set for the decades-long latency period for the development of malignant mesothelioma.
Types and Symptoms
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma, representing about 75 percent of cases. Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common type, consisting of about………..