How Do You Get Mesothelioma Cancer?

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Magnifying glass on cancer on newspaperMesothelioma is a deadly disease that affects millions of Americans. Are you worried that you’re showing signs of mesothelioma and want to know if you are at potential risk of getting it? By understanding more about how you contract mesothelioma, you are more likely to avoid it all together. And the better educated you are about the signs, the faster you can catch it and hopefully prolong life. Read on to learn more about mesothelioma symptoms and causes, treatment options, survival rate and more.

What Is Mesothelioma Cancer?

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer which occurs when there’s an inflammation that disrupts the functionality of one’s mesothelium, or the tissue that surrounds many internal organs. The primary contributing factor for developing mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a group of minerals that are formed together into fibers found in some soil and rock. Asbestos was popular in the 20th century throughout the United States due to its heat-resistant and durable characteristics. Millions were exposed to the substance without knowing there was a connection between the minerals found in it and cancer. Since scientists have made the connection between asbestos and cancer, it has been less frequently used in manufacturing and construction.

There are three main types of mesothelioma. Each type is named after the organ it affects: lungs, abdomen or heart. You may also come across the terms asbestosis and usual interstitial pneumonia in your research.

  1. Pleural Mesothelioma is the most common type, accounting for approximately 70% of cases and takes place in the lungs upon inhalation of asbestos fibers.
  2. Peritoneal Mesothelioma is when asbestos is trapped in the peritoneum (or abdomen) after it is inhaled or swallowed. The rarest classification of mesothelioma is
  3. Pericardial, which is when asbestos makes its way into the pericardium (the upper membrane of the heart).

What Causes Mesothelioma?

The main risk factor for developing mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, which accounts for more than 80% of the cases of mesothelioma. Asbestos can be found in many places including the insulation of older homes, office buildings and schools. In those instances, the particles are so small and embedded in the walls, it’s unlikely that exposure this way can cause grave consequences (unless the asbestos is exposed through damage, remodeling or removal).

There are also certain talc powders that contain asbestos, although given most talc power is now asbestos-free (and it must be inhaled to cause cancer) it’s rare that mesothelioma can be caused through this scenario.

More recent studies have linked possible mesothelioma cases to the simian virus 40 (SV40). SV40 was used in some vaccinations to treat polio in the 1950-60’s exposing as many as 30 million people to the virus during that time. But as of now, there’s no definite conclusion that SV40 is a cause for mesothelioma and research is still being done in this area.

Other potential risks include genetics and gender with men having a higher chance of getting mesothelioma (primarily due to their likelihood of being in male-related jobs that would require them to be around asbestos at work such as electricians, plumbers, boilermakers, carpenters, mechanics, etc.). It can also spread through second-hand exposure including washing clothes, which would include those living with someone who is or was a victim of being in proximity with asbestos on an ongoing basis.

Can You Get Mesothelioma From One Exposure?

Are you wondering what your chances of getting mesothelioma are? The greater the exposure to asbestos, the higher the risk of developing mesothelioma. It usually takes inhaling high-levels of asbestos on a regular basis for it to do any significant damage. So those who have had contact with it once or twice in small amounts shouldn’t be too concerned. However, those who’ve spent time in the construction industry or other workplaces where asbestos is used could be at potential risk for developing mesothelioma.

How many people does mesothelioma affect? This National Institute of Health article has various statistics, including a WHO estimate that as of 2013, 1.3 million people in the United States have been exposed to asbestos through mining, shipbuilding, automotive and other related industries.

Mesothelioma Symptoms

Symptoms of mesothelioma don’t occur in an individual until anywhere from 20-50 years after exposure to asbestos. Because of the length of time from contraction to diagnosis, it’s most common in patients 50 years and older. Signs of mesothelioma are similar to other cancers and diseases and for that reason can often be misdiagnosed. When potential mesothelioma symptoms become apparent, doctors will perform a series of tests that can take several weeks to rule out all other possibilities accurately. Specific symptoms of mesothelioma vary depending on the type and include these warning signs.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing, swallowing and/or chest pain
  • Hoarseness in throat
  • Fluid buildup in the lungs or abdomen
  • Fever and night sweats

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Anemia (especially in women)
  • Blood clots
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low blood sugar

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms:

  • Irregular heartbeats or palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath

Mesothelioma Prognosis

How quickly mesothelioma progresses depends on the stage when it’s diagnosed, the person’s overall health and the type of cancer. The earlier it’s caught, the better, as it’s easier to prevent it from spreading and reduces the need for complicated surgeries. Those who are in overall good health or are younger are more resilient and have a higher likelihood of surviving longer. In general, early detection and high-quality health care are keys into a good prognosis.

Peritoneal mesothelioma has the highest probability of progressing, and pericardial mesothelioma has the worst prognosis. Upon diagnosis and determining which area is affected, the mesothelioma will be given a stage based on how far it has progressed to other parts of the body from where it originated. Signs are not always visible until later stages (or can be mistaken for something else), so it often goes undiscovered until it’s too late.

Mesothelioma Treatment Guidelines

Once an individual has been diagnosed with mesothelioma and the stage of the disease has been determined, doctors will then discuss the available treatment plans. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for mesothelioma. While traditional treatments including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation can lead to a better prognosis, treatment is more often limited to reducing the pain and discomfort caused by mesothelioma (especially in the later stages).

For patients who do not respond to conventional cancer therapies, there are clinical trials to test newer treatments. Newly diagnosed patients could have even more advanced options as more recent scientific research is creating significant breakthroughs in potentially better treatments for mesothelioma. These newer treatment options could prolong and improve the quality of the patient’s life.

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy After Diagnosis

The mesothelioma survival rate is on average anywhere between 12 to 21 months after diagnosis (depending on circumstances, stage, location and other factors). Approximately 40 percent of patients live past one year with as little as 9 percent living longer than five years. Women who are diagnosed with mesothelioma also have a higher survival rate than men and on average live five and a half months longer. However, there is hope thanks to more natural healing methods. Lifestyle changes, like going vegan, can also improve your chances.

Video: Emotional and Spiritual Principles of Healing

Paul Kraus is the longest survivor of mesothelioma. He was diagnosed in 1997 and 20 years later is still around to share his story and help others through his book “Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers.” Watch this two-minute video to learn how he’s used some basic emotional and spiritual principals to heal and outlast the disease taking over his body.

What Other Harmful Chemicals Should I Be Aware Of?

Asbestos isn’t the only chemical hiding in our everyday products. There are parabens in many lotions and sodium fluoride in our water — just how bad they are for us (or good, in the case of fluoride helping with cavity prevention for example) is still up for debate. We urge you to learn more about the elements, chemicals, and compounds you are exposed to in your everyday so you can live a long, healthy life.

Do you know someone who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma?

About The Author:

Sadie is a vegetarian and an avid recycler who loves riding her bike and practicing yoga. She is passionate about the planet, conserving life’s precious resources and making the world a better place for generations to come. A big fan of up-cycling, Sadie loves yard sales and vintage stores to find new uses for old things. She loves to cook, clean and enjoy the many parks and outdoor spaces in DC where she currently resides with her husband.

Her expertise has appeared in many notable media outlets, including The New York Times' Wirecutter, Forbes, People, Reader's Digest, Apartment Therapy, and other regional news organizations.

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