Mesothelioma is an aggressive, incurable cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Over 100,000 Americans have died from mesothelioma in the past 30 years, including over 30,000 U.S. veterans. There are VA benefits available for veterans diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, including disability and VA health care.
What Is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare and incurable cancer caused by asbestos exposure. It affects the mesothelium, the thin layer of tissue that covers most internal organs. Approximately 3,000 new cases of malignant (cancerous) mesothelioma are diagnosed yearly in the United States.
Video Summary: Registered Nurse Amy Fair explains what mesothelioma is, the causes, and the symptoms. View Transcript.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma attacks the tissues that line most major organs, called the mesothelium. It is known mainly to attack the mesothelium of the lung, pericardial sack, peritoneal cavity in the abdomen, and also known to attack the lining of the testicles.
One of the first symptoms for developing mesothelioma is shortness of breath. A lot of times folks will have the shortness of breath with the pleuritic chest pain. This is also followed sometimes by substantial weight loss.
Many times after being diagnosed with mesothelioma your physician may ask you if you have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a causative factor for mesothelioma. Some of the imaging studies may show underlying pleural plaques which are indicated that they have been around asbestos and may have underlying asbestosis.
The risk factors for developing mesothelioma are working around asbestos-related products, or being indirectly around those products such as secondhand exposures that are seen with wives that launder their loves ones’ clothes that have asbestos dust on them. So direct asbestos exposure, as well as indirect asbestos exposure, can be causative factors for mesothelioma.
If you have symptoms of mesothelioma of any asbestos-related disease, it’s important that you inform your doctor of your asbestos exposure so that appropriate testing can be done.
There are 4 types of mesothelioma, each one characterized by where in the body the cancer first forms. Each type is serious, but some respond better to life-extending treatment than others.
Mesothelioma can develop in the linings of the:
Symptoms of mesothelioma start out mild, often mimicking signs of more common health problems like lung cancer or pneumonia.
For this reason, mesothelioma is usually hard to diagnose until the cancer has spread and symptoms worsen.
Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that was used in many products due to its resistance to heat. In the 1970s, it became clear that people were dying from cancer after inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers.
How Mesothelioma Develops
- When asbestos-containing products are handled or damaged, asbestos fibers can be inhaled or swallowed.
- Once in the body, these indestructible fibers embed themselves in the lining of the lungs or abdomen and cause irritation.
- After 20-50 years, malignant mesothelioma can develop.
There are 4 types of mesothelioma, each one characterized by where in the body the cancer first forms. Each type is deadly, but some respond better to life-extending treatment than others.
Symptoms of mesothelioma start out mild, often mimicking signs of more common health problems like lung cancer or pneumonia. For this reason, mesothelioma is usually hard to diagnose until the cancer has spread and symptoms worsen.
Mesothelioma & Veterans
U.S. military veterans account for over 30% of all cases of mesothelioma.
Widespread use of asbestos in the military has put veterans who served from 1930-1980 at risk. These risk factors for mesothelioma are why veterans should be on the lookout for symptoms of the disease.
There have been cases of mesothelioma in every branch of the military, and many cases of asbestos exposure occurred on Navy ships.