Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the lining of the body’s internal organs. Exposure to airborne asbestos particles greatly increases the risk of developing malignant mesothelioma and is the most common cause of the disease.
The three most common types of mesothelioma are pleural (lungs), peritoneal (abdomen) and pericardial (heart). On rare occasions, mesothelioma can also develop in the reproductive organs. Pleural mesothelioma is by far the most common type, comprising more than 75% of all mesothelioma cases; peritoneal mesothelioma is the next most common at 10-20% of all diagnoses. Pericardial and mesothelioma of the reproductive organs are rare, with only about 1% of all mesothelioma cases falling in these categories.
Though exposure to asbestos particles can cause mesothelioma, the disease has a lengthy latency (waiting) period of 10-50 years before symptoms appear. Therefore, it is important to know whether you have been exposed to asbestos in the past, whether or not that exposure has continued, and to closely monitor your health if that exposure can be confirmed.
Following a mesothelioma diagnosis, the average life expectancy of a patient is less than one year, though the actual expectancy is influenced by such factors as the type and stage of the disease. In patients where the cancer is found early, approximately 50% survive two years and approximately 20% survive for five years. Treatments are available that can significantly extend life expectancy and ameliorate pain and suffering, so it’s important to know what treatment options exist and where to find them. At the National Cancer Foundation, we strive to dramatically increase the aforementioned survival rates while working to ultimately rid the world of this deadly disease.What is Mesothelioma?