What is Mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops in the protective lining (mesothelium) that covers majority of the body's internal organs. Mesothelioma is an illness caused by exposure to asbestos. This particular cancer is typically found in the outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall (pleura). It can also be found in the lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum) or the pericardium (the sac surrounding the lining of the heart).

Mesothelioma is a serious form of lung cancer, affecting mostly men between the ages of 50 and 70. Women are affected less frequently since very few worked in asbestos-containing environments, such as construction. If women were exposed to asbestos, it was either from living in an older home or through inhaling fibers found on their husbands' clothing. Women and children from households that had a parent working in places with asbestos products could also become ill from fibers that remain attached to clothing. The process is comparable to that of second-hand smoking. You can get mesothelioma or other lung-related diseases second-hand.

The Cause of Mesothelioma

The cause of your mesothelioma may be due to previous, or even current, employment. Your illness may also be through para-occupational, secondary exposure. This means at some point you were either exposed to a relative's clothing that contained asbestos fibers or had worked in an area that left you vulnerable and exposed to asbestos products. Many of the older buildings in which you may have worked were constructed using asbestos products as insulation.

Incidence rates have increased in the past 20 years, but mesothelioma is still a relatively rare cancer. Between 1940 and 1979, approximately 27.5 million people were exposed to asbestos in the United States on a continuous basis. During the times between 1973 and 1984, the occurrence of pleural mesothelioma among men increased by an astounding 300 percent. From the 1980s to 1990s, mesothelioma deaths rose from 2,000 per year to approximately 3,000. Of the deaths, men were four times more likely to acquire the disease than women. Results vary and are not completely accurate due to the number of mesothelioma cases that have been misdiagnosed over the years.