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We've all heard of it, but what is mesothelioma and how does one develop it?

• Health: Chronic Illness • Health: Medical

Mesothelioma, or meso for short, has been around and in the news for many years now. We hear about it on TV commercials, often associated with names of attorneys and law firms, but what is this disease exactly? How does somebody end up with meso? Are the ways to avoid getting meso?

Mesothelioma is a kind of malignant cancer that develops in the mesothelium tissue. This tissue forms the protective lining of most of the organs of our body. The most likely places where it develops are the area near the lungs, abdominal cavity, heart and the testis. It is a relatively rare cancer but its occurrence has increased over the past few years. The deadly disease does not show its symptoms for a long time. Its major signs include shortness of breath, chest pain, cough and abdominal pain. Other symptoms may include loss of appetite, night sweating, fever and vomiting. The affected person can develop multiple tumor masses which can spread to other parts of the body. In fatal cases, it can cause internal organ bleeding, pulmonary embolism and heart failure.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer but its occurrence has increased over the past few years. Many incidents of lung cancer have been due to the direct consequence of mesothelioma. It generally shows itself in the later years, typically after 40-50 years of age.

Mesothelioma is most commonly linked to exposure to asbestos. It is considered one of the main causes of malignant mesothelioma. People with prolonged exposure to asbestos have a high chance of developing mesothelioma. The potential danger is enhanced by the fact that up until the 1980s, asbestos was heavily used in various industrial applications.

Asbestos is a microscopic fibrous silicate. Asbestos is resistant to fire, chemically inert and strong. Such favorable properties warranted its use in many fields, particularly roofs and ceilings. It was a popular building material owing to its abundance and remarkable features. Even though the first legal suit against asbestos was field as early as in 1929, it was not until 1960 that it was found to be hazardous and linked with mesothelioma. It was an article published by Wigner in 1960 that for the first time voiced concerns over asbestos use. Many studies were published that linked over 50 mesothelioma cases with asbestos exposure, including one Australian asbestos worker. In the 1970s, there was public agitation against the use of asbestos. The heavy use of asbestos in buildings meant that people were exposed to it even in their homes. Any new construction or destruction of a building brought in a fresh influx of asbestos into a neighborhood.

Asbestos was admitted to be harmful by the United States Occupation Safety and Health Administration and England’s Health and Safety Executive. In 2002, the USA banned mining of asbestos. It is now unanimously agreed that any level of exposure to asbestos is harmful and even short exposure times can be detrimental.

An X-ray, CT scan or an MRI scan can diagnose mesothelioma. However, confirmed diagnosis is difficult for this and thus biopsy is required to confirm the presence of mesothelioma. A tissue sample has to be taken out and studied to confirm. Difficult prognosis makes cure rare. Surgery and Radiation treatment have proved to be ineffective by themselves but when combined with chemotherapy have significantly improved survival rates for mesothelioma patients. Usually, a radical surgery is performed where the tumor is removed. The chemotherapy agents are then administered to complete the treatment. For patients who can bear the radiative treatment, it is utilized along with chemotherapy.

The only known prevention for this disease is limiting exposure to asbestos. Companies like John-Manville Sales Corporation used asbestos extensively and were sued by some patients who developed mesothelioma as a result of it. In compensation, these firms were required to set up trust funds that would compensate asbestos affected victims. A myriad of funds have been set up with an estimated $30 billion set aside for victims. This amount is expected to grow as the victims increase.