Info on Asbestos & Mesothelioma


Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral used because of its excellent abilities to resist heat, electrical and chemical damage. Asbestos also has excellent sound absorption and tensile strength. These properties made asbestos very popular during the late 19th century.

Companies and the government continued to use asbestos well into the 1970s, unaware of the negative consequences of using it until later in the decade. The manufacturers of asbestos were aware of the adverse health effects of using the product, yet they continued to sell the product. Below are answers to some questions you may have about asbestos and why it was used.

Asbestos is the name of a group of minerals that occur naturally as masses of strong, flexible fibers that can be separated into thin threads and woven. Asbestos has been widely used in many industrial products and on navy ships.

The product was used because it is very durable and fire and heat resistant. It was used in the military mainly for insulation purposes. After being used for years, there are alternatives that do not have the same negative effects on humans and the environment.

When working near or being exposed to asbestos, tiny particles float into the air and can be inhaled or swallowed. Asbestos has been known to cause serious health problems such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. It can also increase the likelihood of developing lung cancer and other cancers such as those of the larynx or kidney.


Below are some answers to questions you may have about mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that develops in the protective lining of the chest cavity, abdominal cavity and the cavity around the heart. Since most mesothelial tumors are cancerous, malignant mesothelioma is simply called mesothelioma. The most common site for these tumors to develop is the pleura (outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall). Mesothelioma can also occur in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity) and in the sac surrounding the heart (pericardium).

Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos particles. Tiny asbestos particles float into the air and may be inhaled or swallowed. Most cases of diagnosed mesothelioma are a result of exposure during military service or on-the-job. Family members who have never worked near asbestos have also developed the disease from coming into contact with contaminated clothing (secondary exposure), especially from laundering the clothing.

The most commonly reported initial symptoms are shortness of breath and chest pain. As the cancer progresses, other symptoms that may be present are increased shortness of breath, weight loss, decreased appetite, night sweats, voice changes caused by local invasion of the tumor and loss of diaphragm function.

No, but there are treatments available to increase the length of time of survival and to ease symptoms.

Asbestosis is a breathing disorder caused by scarred lung tissue and may be so mild as to manifest no symptoms or can be fatal. Mesothelioma is cancer and not curable. However, asbestosis can lead to the development of cancer such as lung cancer or mesothelioma.

The different types of mesothelioma are pleural, peritoneal, pericardial and mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis testis.

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma. It accounts for 75% of all diagnosed cases and affects the section of the mesothelium called the pleura, according to the Mesothelioma Research Foundation of America. Lung cancer, which can sometimes be confused with mesothelioma, affects the lung itself whereas mesothelioma affects the tissue lining the lungs.

Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common type of mesothelioma. 10-20% of all reported cases are of the peritoneal type. The section of the mesothelium affected by this type of cancer is the lining of the abdomen. The reason the abdominal lining is affected is because inhaled asbestos fibers subsequently travel through the digestive tract and become stuck, causing a tumor to develop.

Pericardial mesothelioma is not very common at all and according to the Mesothelioma Research Foundation, only about 150 cases have been reported in medical literature. This type of mesothelioma affects the lining of the heart.

Mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis testis is the least common type of mesothelioma, accounting for less than 100 documented cases of the disease, according to The Mesothelioma Research Foundation of America. The symptoms for this type of mesothelioma differ from the other forms as patients generally present with a hydrocele (an accumulation of serous fluid in a sac-like cavity (such as the scrotum) or a hernia.

The reason the abdominal lining is sometimes affected is because inhaled asbestos fibers subsequently travel through the digestive tract and become stuck, causing a tumor to develop.

In stage I, the cancer is localized in the chest wall lining, lung lining, diaphragm lining or the lining of the sac covering the heart. In stage II, the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. In stage III, the cancer has spread to the chest wall, the mediastinum, the heart, beyond the diaphragm, the peritoneum and/or the lymph nodes. In stage IV, the cancer has spread to distant organs or tissues.

Mesothelioma affects the linings of organs, such as lining of the lungs and internal chest wall, the abdominal lining and the sac surrounding the heart. It can also spread to other parts of the body as the cancer progresses.

The pleura is the outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall.

Men have been diagnosed with the disease three times as often as women. However, the rate of women being diagnosed with mesothelioma has increased over recent years. During World War II, women assumed many of the jobs normally worked by men who were deployed for the war, working in such places as shipyards, steel-producing facilities, and power plants where they were exposed to asbestos.

Mesothelioma is not contagious but it may often affect more than one family member because of secondary exposure to the asbestos particles.

Mesothelioma was first recognized as a tumor of the pleura, peritoneum and pericardium in the late 1700's. Mesothelioma was linked to asbestos exposure in the first report written on the subject by J.C. Wagner which detailed 32 cases of workers in the "Asbestos Hills" in South Africa. Even though the incidences of mesothelioma cases is still relatively low, with 14 cases per million people occurring per year, the number of diagnosed cases is increasing since soldiers who were exposed years ago are now manifesting the symptoms of mesothelioma. Also, the disease is gaining attention and publicity since lawyers are now holding the responsible companies accountable for their negligence.

Yes, benign mesothelioma occurs in less than 10 percent of mesothelioma cases. It has recently been called solitary fibrous tumor of the pleura.

The symptoms are very similar to that of malignant mesothelioma and consist of: chest pain, shortness of breath and chronic cough. They result from the growth of the tumor pressing on the lungs.

Approximately three percent of cancer-related deaths each year are attributed to mesothelioma.

Approximately 3 out of 4 people with mesothelioma are over age 65.

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