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Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the mesothelium. It is diagnosed in approximately 2,000 to 3,000 people each year in the United States. A primary cause of mesothelioma is long-term or heavy exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that is known for being heat resistant and a fire retardant; in addition, it does not conduct electricity well and is strong, yet flexible. Because of these particular properties, asbestos has been widely used in building products, such as roofing tiles, insulation, drywall, and concrete, as well as in automotive parts such as brake pads and linings, and also on ships.
While genetic factors and exposure to a virus called SV40 have been attributed to a small percentage of mesothelioma cases, most have been linked to asbestos exposure. As such, people who have worked with, or still do work with or around, asbestos are at risk for developing mesothelioma. Occupations that may lead, or have led, to asbestos exposure include, but are not limited to:
U.S. Navy veterans
oil refinery workers
In addition, individuals who live with people who work around asbestos may also be at risk for exposure because of asbestos dust brought home on clothes or shoes. Mesothelioma has a high latency period, meaning it may be dormant in a body for 20 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos. This means that people who worked with or around asbestos up to 40 years ago may just be diagnosed with asbestos today.
The mesothelium is a protective layer of cells around most major organs in the body. The mesothelium provides a slippery, protective surface that enables the organs to glide against each other easily when they move, such as when the lungs expand and contract or the heart beats. The mesothelium of the lungs is called the pleura; of the heart, the pericardium; and of the abdominal region, the peritoneum.
When mesothelioma occurs in the body, injury occurs to the mesothelium. When the injury occurs, the mesothelial cells will move outside of the wound and join surrounding fluid. As the wound heals, the cells will attach to the wound and become involved in the healing process. If something inhibits the healing process, fibrous adhesions may form between the organs and the body wall, which can interfere with the movement of organs. A malignant change in mesothelial cells leads to mesothelioma, which is an aggressive tumor that affects the lungs and chest cavity.
Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs in approximately 25 percent of mesothelioma cases. The best prognosis for mesothelioma is when it is caught in its earliest stage. However, in many cases mesothelioma is not diagnosed until it has become more advanced. This is because the symptoms of mesothelioma are often similar to more common illnesses, such as the flu.
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, a change in bowel habits (such as diarrhea or constipation), lumps of tissue in the abdominal region, and unexplained weight loss. Typically, the most frequent symptom at presentation is abdominal pain. To diagnose peritoneal mesothelioma, standard lab tests such as blood tests, may be used but are often not helpful in diagnosing the disease. Imaging tests, such as CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans are used to diagnose the cancer.
Treatment options for peritoneal mesothelioma may typically help extend a person\'s survival, but are not generally curative. Treatment may include cytoreductive surgery, in which part of the bowels and parts of other affected organs in the abdomen are removed. Following surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or radiation may be used. Some patients also participate in clinical trials using new methods of treatment. Others opt to use alternative or complimentary therapies such as acupuncture, primarily as a means of reducing pain associated with the cancer.
Unfortunately, peritoneal mesothelioma is usually considered to be a fatal tumor. Even with treatment, the survival rate for patients is not generally a long period. The median survival rate of this cancer is one year; however, there have been cases reported in which patients have lived up to 19 years after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Factors that affect a patient\'s survival rate include the stage of the cancer, the age of the patient, and the condition of the effected tissue.
Learning of a peritoneal mesothelioma diagnosis can be devastating, physically, emotionally, and financially. Not only is it very difficult to learn you have cancer, but the medical expenses associated with treatment can become astronomical.
If you have been diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, it is recommended that you speak with an attorney whose focus is mesothelioma and asbestos. He or she will guide you through the legal process and determine what legal steps you can take to pursue compensation for your medical bills and the pain and suffering you have experienced.
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