Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that primarily affects people who have at some point in their lives been exposed to asbestos fibers. This form of cancer can affect the lining of the lungs, heart, and abdomen, which is known as the mesothelium. It is almost always highly malignant, and often leads to mortality within just a few years. Cases of this deadly disease have been steadily growing, and while asbestos is now banned in most countries, it seems that many more people will be affected by mesothelioma.
The first documented cases of mesothelioma occurred in the early 1940s, but as we understand it now, the cancer takes root early and lies dormant in its hosts. It can take anywhere from 20 years to 50 years from the time of asbestos exposure for mesothelioma to actually manifest in a person. While those who experienced prolonged exposure to asbestos are more likely to get this type of cancer, even people who were only exposed for a few months are sometimes at risk.
The first hints of mesothelioma, and the dangers of asbestos, came about in the very early 1900s in Great Britain. Serious lung disease started to become a major problem for people working in factories that used asbestos. It wasn’t until 1930, however, that the British government launched a study to determine the link between asbestos and lung disease. And, because of its long dormancy, the link between asbestos and mesothelioma took even longer to discover. While there was a lot of evidence pointing to the problems, the asbestos industry was very profitable, and so many companies make little to no effort to try and establish the connection.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that a South African medical researcher discovered the exact link between asbestos and mesothelioma. He studied 33 cases of severe lung diseases – and 32 of those cases had been heavily exposed to asbestos. Unfortunately, even in the face of this evidence, businesses and governments were slow to move, and many companies that owned asbestos mines and factories actually tried to discredit the report or hide its findings. Thus, very few people who worked with asbestos were ever alerted to the dangers that they faced from mesothelioma and other serious illnesses.
Today, many more people are aware of the links between asbestos and the diseases it cause. Yet still, asbestos is considered a serious occupational hazard for over 1.3 million workers in America alone who work in construction and renovation. As cases of mesothelioma and other related illnesses continue to grow each year, it is clear that the problem is far from over.
There is no known cure for mesothelioma. While the cancer does sometimes respond to treatment in the form of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, these measures are merely palliative. Even with the best treatment, most people do not survive more than 5 years after being diagnosed with the disease. This is why programs dedicated to the awareness of asbestos and mesothelioma are extremely important to help ensure that more people aren’t exposed to this potentially deadly material.