- Introduction to Epithelial Mesothelioma
- By:James Howell
Epithelial mesothelioma is a rare disease caused by asbestos exposure that may have occurred decades before the patient is diagnosed. It is not contagious and cannot be passed from one person to another. Unlike lung cancer, there is no association between epithelial mesothelioma and smoking. However, the Kent brand of cigarettes used asbestos in its filters for the first few years of production in the 1950s and some cases of epithelial mesothelioma have resulted from that.
Epithelial mesothelioma occurs much more often in men than women, and three-fourths of mesothelioma sufferers are over 65 years of age. Most people who develop the disease have worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles, or have been exposed to asbestos dust and fibers in other ways. One study of asbestos insulation workers reported a mesothelioma death rate up to 344 times higher than the general population. Although the disease is not contagious, it has been found that family members of asbestos workers have a higher risk of developing mesothelioma and other similar diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis (a noncancerous, chronic lung ailment), and other cancers, such as those of the larynx and kidney. This increased risk is thought to be caused by exposure to asbestos from the worker's clothing and hair.
Although reported incidence rates have increased in the past 20 years, epithelial mesothelioma is still a relatively rare cancer. Incidence of malignant epithelial mesothelioma currently ranges from about 7 to 40 per 1,000,000 in industrialized Western nations, depending on the amount of asbestos exposure of the populations during the past several decades. More than 500,000 asbestos or mesothelioma lawsuits have been filed against asbestos manufacturers and employers, for neglecting to implement safety measures after the links between asbestos, asbestosis, and mesothelioma became known.
Although epithelial mesothelioma is generally resistant to curative treatment with radiotherapy alone, it is often used to make the person with cancer comfortable or to relieve symptoms arising from tumor growth, such as obstruction of a major blood vessel. Radiation therapy alone has never been shown to improve survival from epithelial mesothelioma. In fact, the necessary radiation dose to treat mesothelioma that has not been surgically removed would be very toxic.
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