This September 26th marks the 17th anniversary of Mesothelioma Awareness Day, a day centered around educating the general public on the hazard of asbestos exposure and the risk it brings for developing mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a relatively rare cancer caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers. This cancer affects the lining of the internal organs, mainly appearing in the lungs and abdomen. A few common symptoms can include chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, and fever. Mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as a less serious ailment due to these mild symptoms; therefore, by the time the more serious issues start to occur, it can end up being too late for proactive treatment.
The reason for mesothelioma’s high misdiagnosis rate is in part due to the fact that it can only be diagnosed through a biopsy. However, with limited general knowledge of the disease, along with an extended latency period of up to fifty years, diagnosing mesothelioma can still pose a challenge. After the disease is properly identified, it is then classified into one of four stages classified by how much they have metastasized. Unfortunately, patients are typically diagnosed from stages 2-4 where the cancer has already spread to the rest of the organ or body making treatment more difficult.
From the 1920s to the 1980s, asbestos was commonly used in many things such as construction supplies and insulation. While it was heavily used for decades, many people were and still are unaware that they may develop mesothelioma in the future through secondary or product exposure. It is important to note that occupational exposure is the most prominent way individuals can come into contact with asbestos, with certain occupations such as construction workers and mechanics being at a significantly higher risk. When asbestos fibers become airborne and are inhaled or ingested, they can then become affixed to the linings of vital organs such as the lungs and heart. These fibers proceed to cause a number of health issues years down the line such as scarring, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.
Currently, there is no cure for mesothelioma, so at times treatment options exist only to improve the patient’s prognosis and quality of life. The average life expectancy for a mesothelioma patient being only approximately 12-21 months. Generally, mesothelioma patients are treated through the means of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of the three. Depending on the prognosis, these traditional treatment methods may be ineffective, and the patient may be eligible for more experimental trials. Some of these trials include immunotherapy treatments and gene therapy treatments among others.
Although no cure is available, the knowledge that the only known cause is from asbestos presents the opportunity for diseases stemming from exposure of this material that can be alleviated. This will effectively work to eliminate the cancer as a whole. You can help by spreading awareness of asbestos exposure by pushing your local and state officials to vote in favor of full bans on asbestos and donating money to organizations involved in the research for a cure. Mesothelioma can easily become a cancer of the past, but it will take the support and awareness from the general public to do so.