Many people have never heard of mesothelioma cancer because it is rare. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 2,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. Compare that to 213,380 lung cancer cases the Institute predicts will be diagnosed in 2007.
Mesothelioma cancer begins in the tissue, called the mesothelieum, that surrounds the lungs, stomach, heart and other organs. The mesothelieum protects these organs with two levels of tissue and a fluid that allows the organs to move. It can be found in the area around any of these organs but is most commonly found in the chest and abdomen area.
Contact with asbestos is the main risk factor. Asbestos can be found in insulation in many buildings. Asbestos can also be found in floor tiles, roofing, dust and rocks.
Most of the use of asbestos in construction products was discontinued after 1989. But the cancer may not be diagnosed until 20 to 50 years after exposure because it takes a long time to develop.
That is why most cases of occur in people in their late 50s and older. According to the American Cancer Society, three-fourths of patients diagnosed are over 65.
Other factors that have been tied to this are:
* Radiation. A material called thorium dioxide that was used in x-rays was found to cause cancer. But this material has not been used for many years.
* Tobacco. Smoking has not been directly associated with this cancer but smoking and asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
* SV40 Virus. This virus was found in polio vaccines in the mid 50s and early 60s. Since symptoms do not develop for 20 to 50 years, it may be some time before it is known if this virus is a risk factor.
The symptoms vary from person to person based on where the affected tissue is located. The overall symptoms include:
* Shortness of breath
* Chest pain
* Abdominal pain
* Abdominal swelling
The treatments vary depending on the patient. Many patients have surgery to remove the lining and tissue that is affected. In severe cases, tissue surrounding the chest, a lung or part of the diaphragm may be removed.
Doctors may recommend that some patients have radiation therapy where high energy rays shrink tumors and kill the affected cells.
Another common treatment, chemotherapy, may be recommended but has not been successful in treating patients with mesothelioma. According to the American Cancer Society, anti-angiogenesis drugs which kill these cells by stopping their blood supply are being considered.
The prognosis for patients is grim because the disease is often advanced by the time it is diagnosed. According to the American Cancer Society, the five year survival rate is about 10 percent. Most patients only survive for a year after diagnosis. New treatments and clinical studies are being conducted to improve the survival rate of patients with mesothelioma cancer.