Mesothelioma Lung Cancer
Mesothelioma is a rare type of lung cancer caused in nine out of ten cases by exposure to asbestos. The number of people around the world diagnosed with the disease is increasing because of the widespread use of the insulating material over the past 50 years and the fact that it can take four decades to develop in the lungs.
The cancer mainly affects men and the one common factor is that they all worked in some form of industry that used or came into contact with asbestos – construction workers, electricians, shipbuilders, plumbers etc.
How Asbestos causes Mesothelioma
The problem arises when the asbestos becomes damaged and releases tiny fibers into the air which are breathed in, causing inflammation. These fibers can penetrate the lung tissue and settle as tiny nodules in the membrane surrounding the lung (known as the pleura). These membranes then thicken and press into the lung.
Unfortunately mesothelioma can take anything up to 40 years to develop after the first exposure to asbestos. It’s only then that a person may notice that their voice goes hoarse and they may develop a cough. This may be accompanied by general vague symptoms such as tiredness, weight loss and shortness of breath.
As the disease progresses fluid usually appears around the lungs, which may have to be drained regularly, and there will pain in the chest. Mesothelioma is usually diagnosed by testing the fluid around the lungs to see if it contains cancer cells, a lung biopsy and chest and computerized tomography (CT) scans.
Preventing mesothelioma is easy - with the benefit of hindsight. But thousands of people were exposed to asbestos before anyone knew of the dangers and its definitive link to lung cancer.
Even though a link between mesothelioma and lung cancer was made 30 years ago, it was only in 1999 in the UK that the importation and use of all asbestos was banned. This could mean that in 20 years time around 3,000 people a year in the UK will be diagnosed with the disease. Only after that the number of cases should begin to drop and this cancer may one day become very rare.
Despite extensive research there’s no proven link between smoking and mesothelioma, although if a person smoked and worked with asbestos then their risk of developing some form of lung cancer is higher.
Very rarely, mesothelioma can occur in people who have had no contact with asbestos but doctors are still researching why this happens as the disease is neither genetic nor contagious.
Unfortunately there is no cure for the disease unless it’s in its early stages and can be removed by surgery. Like other lung cancers, by the time it is diagnosed it is often too late to do anything about it other than try to improve the quality of the victim’s life. You can also view our partner at http://www.aviva.co.uk/health/.