Mesothelioma, A Deadly Cancer Caused By Inhaling Asbestos Fibres

Mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos, is a complex disease that affects the protective sac surrounding the internal organs of the human body, known as the mesothelium. This sac includes membranes such as the peritoneum, pleura, and pericardium, which respectively protect the abdominal organs, lungs, and heart.

Under certain conditions, the cells within this protective membrane can undergo uncontrolled division, leading to the development of Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer primarily caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos dust and fibres. This disease is typically observed among people working in shipyards, asbestos mines and factories, and industries involved in asbestos-based products, heating, and construction. 

Notably, it predominantly affects males, with a higher incidence among whites compared to people of colour. Each year in the UK alone, approximately 2,700 new cases are reported, typically among individuals aged 50-70.

In 1999, the UK government banned the use of asbestos in building materials. However, if you live in a house constructed before 2000 and plan to carry out renovations or demolition work, conducting an asbestos survey before commencing the project is recommended. This survey will help identify any asbestos-containing materials.

While the study of Mesothelioma began in the late 1700s, it wasn’t until the 1960s that in-depth investigations were conducted. Tumours associated with Mesothelioma can be benign or malignant, with the latter further classified into three types: epithelioid, sarcomatoid, and mixed or biphasic.

When asbestos fibres are inhaled, they traverse the larger air passages before reaching the pleura, damaging the mesothelial cells, leading to cancer development. Additionally, asbestos fibres can cause lung cancer and scar tissue formation within the lungs, known as asbestosis. When these fibres are ingested, they can reach the abdominal cavity and induce peritoneal mesothelioma.

Research indicates that the disease typically manifests several decades after asbestos exposure. However, the symptoms are nonspecific, making it difficult to diagnose. Patients may experience breathlessness, chest pain accompanied by tightness due to fluid accumulation in the pleura, low back pain, swelling of the face and arms, sensory loss, muscle weakness, nausea, vomiting, unexplained weight loss, persistent dry cough, sore throat, anaemia, fever, constipation, and problems with blood clotting. These symptoms are often mistaken for minor ailments, leading patients to overlook them. It is essential to consult a doctor if any of these symptoms persist or if there has been known or possible exposure to asbestos.

During a medical consultation, a doctor will collect a detailed medical history, assess symptoms, and evaluate risk factors. A thorough physical examination will be conducted to check for signs of pleural effusion, fluid accumulation in the chest cavity, fluid in the abdominal cavity, and pericardial effusion, fluid in the lining of the heart. Diagnostic tests, such as chest X-rays and CT scans, will be recommended to detect thickening of the pleura, calcifications, and abnormalities in lung fissures. In suspected cases, tissue samples and pleural fluids may also be examined.

In addition to asbestos exposure, other risk factors for Mesothelioma include cigarette or cigar smoking, radiation exposure, exposure to zeolite (a compound similar to asbestos), and infections caused by SV40, a Simian virus.

Individuals working in high-risk environments should prioritise wearing protective clothing, ensuring regular testing for suspended asbestos particles in their surroundings, and undergoing routine medical examinations while reporting persistent ailments to their doctors.

Raising awareness about Mesothelioma and its associated challenges is crucial in combating this disease.

 

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