Malignant Mesothelioma: The Forgotten Killer

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare cancer affecting the thin layer of tissue that protects the lungs, heart and other internal organs. 

Mesothelioma occurs in three forms:

  • pleural mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs
  • peritoneal mesothelioma attacks the abdominal cavity wall
  • pericardial mesothelioma occurs in the heart lining

The most common variety of malignant mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma. 


Mesothelioma is thankfully very rare, regardless of type.  Statistics from the American Lung Association show that just around 3,000 people in the US are diagnosed each year.

The main cause of malignant mesothelioma is contact with the fibrous silicate mineral, asbestos.  Until its danger to health was realised in the 1970s asbestos was routinely used in the manufacture of building materials.  Consequently, the condition now affects many workers who were employed in industries such as construction, shipbuilding or textiles where exposure to asbestos fibres was common.

Asbestos fibres are microscopic.  This means that they are easily inhaled.  The minute fibres enter the body and lodge in the tissues of the respiratory system where they remain.  Sufferers who have been heavy smokers will be more severely affected than non-smokers.


One of the most dangerous aspects of malignant mesothelioma is that it can take between 35 and 50 years for the sufferer to show any symptoms.  This means that early diagnosis and treatment is very unlikely. 

Common symptoms include chest pain, painful breathing and coughing, and shortness of breath.  When the condition occurs in the abdomen, unexplained weight loss may occur together with swellings or lumps, and pain.

Diagnosis and treatment

Diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma is not always straightforward because many of the most common symptoms are seen in other diseases too.  In addition to X-rays and CT scans, your doctor will ask for a biopsy.  Once it has been definitively diagnosed the cancer is ‘staged’, that is defined by its severity.    

There is no cure for mesothelioma although some treatments can prolong the patient’s life.  Treatment options include radiation, surgery and chemotherapy.

In conclusion

Thankfully, the use of asbestos in construction has largely been discontinued and modern health and safety procedures mean that handling it during the demolition of affected buildings is much safer than it was.  Nonetheless, extreme care should be taken when handling asbestos in any of its forms, and it’s recommended that you instruct a professional demolition company to remove and dispose of any old asbestos structures on your property.


Image sourcecolmansctts


Alison Page

About Alison Page

Alison is a small business owner, freelance writer, author and dressage judge. She has degrees in Equine Science and Business Studies. Read her full story at

Alison Page

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