What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer caused by asbestos and is not related to smoking. When inhaled asbestos fibres can penetrate the lung causing cancer in the lining of the lung (pleura), or penetrate the bowel or stomach causing cancer in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum).
It is thought that the incidence of mesothelioma in Australia will not peak until sometime between 2015 and 2020 and beyond. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma in Australia.
Mesothelioma is an incurable malignancy which affects the parietal layer (lining) of the pleura. It may also affect the abdominal cavity (the peritoneum). The majority of cases affect the pleura. As the disease progresses the pleura or the peritoneum thickens from the calibre of a cigarette paper to form a hard tumour mass often between 0.5 and 1.0 em thick. This tissue compresses the lung and the lung and gastrointestinal tract. This may cause intestinal obstruction.
Cigarette smoking is not related to the development of mesothelioma. Exposure to Erionite, a fibrous mineral found in Turkey, may also cause mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is the most lethal of all asbestos disease. The latency period between first exposure to asbestos and the onset of mesothelioma is rarely less than 20 years from first exposure and may be more than 50 years. Diagnosis of mesothelioma is usually made by biopsy by either a needle biopsy or through key-hole surgery.
Of the various commercial types of asbestos, mesothelioma is predominantly associated with exposure to the blue asbestos, crocidolite and brown asbestos, amosite. White asbestos, chrysotile has also been linked to the incidence of mesothelioma. All asbestos exposure should be avoided given the potential of developing mesothelioma which is also often associated with quite brief or low level of asbestos exposure.
Recently there has been some progress in the treatment of mesothelioma particularly with the chemotherapy drug Altima which has found to extend the life expectancy in some cases.
Some people who have been treated with Altima are still alive years after diagnosis with mesothelioma. Other treatments are also being trialled. There has been increased effort to find a cure for mesothelioma in recent times.