Asbestos exposure can cause a range of serious illnesses but perhaps no other disease is associated with the deadly mineral fibers as much as malignant mesothelioma and the most common form of this cancer is pleural mesothelioma.
Pleural mesothelioma is a cancer that attacks the thin membrane that surrounds lungs. The other types of mesothelioma attack tissue that surrounds the abdomen, heart and, in males, the testicles.
Malignant pleural mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that has been used for thousands of years because of its resistance to fire and use as an insulator. However for as long as humans have come in contact with the substance, they have been getting sick from it, something that was noted by ancient scholars. Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist, wrote in reference to asbestos in the fourth volume of his Naturalis Historia, "There has been invented also a kind of linen which is incombustible by flame." Pliny also advised against buying slaves who had worked in asbestos mines because of their tendency to die young.
The use of asbestos continued throughout the ages and its commercial use began in earnest during the Industrial Revolution, according to Stanford University's Department of Environmental Health and Safety. The use of asbestos continued into the 20th century and was used across a range of industries including plumbing, pipefitting, shipbuilding, construction and auto work.
However, by the mid-1960s it became clear that the use of this substance, which the ancient Greeks and Romans had dubbed the "miracle mineral," had grave consequences with exposure to asbestos being conclusively linked to asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma.
Because of its widespread use and its tendency not to manifest symptoms in victims until decades after its exposure, many blue collar workers are only now being diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include painful coughing, unexplained weight loss, unusual lumps on the chest, shortness of breath and chest pain. Those who experience such symptoms and believe they may have been exposed to asbestos may want to contact a healthcare professional to see if they have the rare cancer.
One of the primary tests that doctors will perform to diagnose a patient with pleural mesothelioma is a biopsy, which is the removal of a piece of tissue from the potentially affected area for testing. According to the Mayo Clinic, a biopsy is the only way that mesothelioma can be diagnosed.
Once a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis is made, a physician will perform a number of tests to determine how far the disease has progressed. These tests can include chest X-rays, CT scans and MRIs.
Unfortunately, once pleural mesothelioma has been diagnosed, there is not much that a doctor can do other than to make the patient as comfortable as possible because, as is the case with all cancers, for many patients there is no possible cure. Still if the disease is diagnosed in its early stages, it is possible for a surgeon to remove the affected tissue and the chemotherapy and radiation therapy can potentially kill the cancer cells.
Pleural mesothelioma is an insidious disease that affects many people who came in contact with asbestos unknowingly while working.
According to the National Cancer Institute, 2,500 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the U.S. every year. In addition, the World Health Organization estimates that 107,000 people are killed each year around the globe from all types of asbestos-related illnesses.