Mesothelioma is a unique form of cancer that is only caused by very specific factors. One of the main controversial carcinogens that cause mesothelioma is asbestos. The reason for the controversy is because this dangerous mineral has long been used in industries for various purposes. Asbestos affects individuals exposed to the chemical only 2 to 3 decades after the initial exposure, thus people who have worked with asbestos and are experiencing the health effects of the mineral several years later are suing the employers for not acknowledging its damaging effects on health. Mesothelioma is the main disease caused by asbestos. Let’s look at the epidemiology of mesothelioma.
As mentioned above mesothelioma is relatively rare with only 2000-3000 cases per year. People are rarely diagnosed with mesothelioma less than 20 years after being exposed to asbestos thus it has a very lengthy latency period. For this reason, it is more likely that it occurs in individuals who are approaching old age (50-70 age bracket), thus the mortality rate of mesothelioma patients are high and most of them are terminal. With the comprehensive ban of asbestos in most developed countries about a decade ago, the number of cases of mesothelioma should significantly drop in a couple of decades from now. However, developing countries still use asbestos in moderation thus there may still be a few cases of the disease until the mineral is completely banned worldwide.
Mesothelioma is primarily caused by asbestos. Most cases of mesothelioma are people who have directly worked with asbestos several years ago. Also, people who are in the vicinity of these people such as spouses or roommates of people who have worked with asbestos may develop mesothelioma; the asbestos particles may be carried via clothes and inhaled by other people nearby. Other rare causes of mesothelioma are the simian virus and minerals that resemble the structure of asbestos such as zeolite. Like all other cancers, mesothelioma is not contagious and cannot be passed on to other people by being in close contact to a victim of mesothelioma.
In a few years the occurrence of mesothelioma will be effectively reduced to an almost eradicated cancer as regulations that ban the usage of asbestos have been implemented by most governments. Due to the very long latency period of mesothelioma by asbestos, it may be approximately 10-20 years before changes in the number of mesothelioma cases takes place following the ban. Other ways of controlling asbestos exposure is by using a protective masks, gloves, suits and goggles to prevent inhalation and transmission of asbestos particles via clothes and hands. After mesothelioma has been diagnosed, life expectancy can be extended by various methods such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. There are also several experimental clinical trials that are being carried out which have shown promising results however none of these methods have been implemented in mainstream hospitals as they have not been FDA approved.
In a few years, mesothelioma will be virtually eradicated but until then it is important to have be educated on various aspects of the disease specifically if you or a close acquaintance has been exposed to asbestos in the past.