What causes mesothelioma?
Asbestos exposure is the main cause of mesothelioma. After these fibers are breathed in, they travel to the ends of small air passages and reach the pleura where they cause physical damage to mesothelial cells that may result in cancer. In addition, they also cause injury to lung cells that can result in lung cancer and/or asbestosis (replacement of lung tissue by scar tissue). If swallowed, these fibers can reach the abdominal cavity where they have a role in causing peritoneal mesothelioma.
Exposure to asbestos, though mostly occupational, can also be environmental, or familial by household contamination, through the work clothes of an asbestos worker for instance.
Beginning 15 years after the onset of exposure, about 6% of asbestos workers die of mesothelioma. In one study of asbestos insulation workers, the death rate from mesothelioma was 344 times higher than in the general population.
What is mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the sac lining the chest (the pleura) or abdomen (the peritoneum). Most people with malignant mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they breathed asbestos.
A doctor should be seen if a person has shortness of breath, pain
in the chest, or pain or swelling in the abdomen. If there are
symptoms, the doctor may order an x-ray of the chest or abdomen.
The doctor may also look inside the abdomen (peritoneoscopy) with
a special tool called a peritoneoscope. The peritoneoscope is put
into an opening made in the abdomen. This test is also usually done
in the hospital. Before the test is done, a local anesthetic will be
The chance of recovery (prognosis) depends on the size of the
cancer, where the cancer is, how far the cancer has spread, how the
cancer cells look under the microscope, how the cancer responds to
treatment, and the patient's age.