From Joseph N. Shaughnessy, MD, radiation oncologist at OHC

January 14, 2019

At OHC, we want to make sure you have access to the latest information about cancer prevention, conditions, treatments and support services to help you strengthen your fight against cancer. We’ve learned that many people have heard of the disease mesothelioma due to wide-spread television commercials. Although these TV campaigns have increased awareness of the disease, most people still know little about it and how to prevent it. Here are answers to some common questions about this disease. If you’d like more information, call OHC at 1-888-649-4800 and ask to speak with a member of our care team.

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen. Malignant mesothelioma is when cancer cells are found in the pleura (the thin layer of tissue that lines the chest cavity and covers the lungs) or the peritoneum (the thin layer of tissue that lines the abdomen and covers most of the organs in the abdomen).

It is also relatively rare. Out of the approximately 327 million people in the United States, only about 3,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Even though that’s only .0009 percent of the population, for the very few who are diagnosed with it, it’s life-changing.

What causes mesothelioma?

The most common cause of mesothelioma is the inhalation of asbestos fibers. Mesothelioma is often diagnosed in older people who have worked with asbestos products. Prognosis for mesothelioma is poor, but early detection and new treatment provide hope for many patients.

What are the most common symptoms?

The most common symptoms are often mistaken for other illnesses, which is why it often isn’t caught until later stages. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms, especially if you may have been exposed to asbestos:

  • Trouble breathing/shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Feeling very tired

Is mesothelioma curable?

Although mesothelioma isn’t curable, treatments are now allowing patients to live longer and with a better quality of life. The challenge is that the disease has a long latency period. That is, is can exist for a long period of time before it begins to show clear symptoms. By then, the disease has usually advanced and is difficult to treat.

Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Other treatments are being tested in clinical trials, which are providing hope for even longer survival rates, better quality of life and possible cures. Treatment will depend on several factors, including the location of the cancer, the stage of the cancer, and the patient’s general health and age.

While doctors work to stop the growth of the cancer, they also focus on the management of symptoms, known as palliative care. The goal of palliative care is to prevent or treat, as early as possible, the symptoms and side effects of the disease and its treatment, and any related psychological, social, and spiritual concerns.

Is there any way to prevent or reduce your risk of mesothelioma?

Yes. The biggest risk factor of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, and there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure.

Harmful exposures often occur when homeowners perform renovations that disturb asbestos. Some of the in-home items that may contain asbestos include:

  • Attic insulation
  • Roof shingles and tar
  • Drywall and drywall glue
  • Floor tiles
  • Popcorn ceilings
  • Joint compounds
  • Wrapping on pipes and electrical wires

Damaged or friable asbestos products should be removed from the house immediately. A licensed abatement company should perform the job. You can take the following steps to protect yourself from asbestos in your home:

  • Ask your home inspector or real estate agent if there is asbestos in your home
  • If you have an older home, don’t perform DIY renovations where asbestos may be present
  • If you think you found asbestos in your home, leave it alone
  • Regularly check known asbestos products in your home for signs of wear
  • If an asbestos product is worn or has become damaged, call an abatement specialist
  • Keep people away from all areas that may contain asbestos
  • Never attempt to remove asbestos without help from a professional

Unless you disturb materials that contain asbestos, they pose minimal risk to you and your family. Harmful exposures may occur when you attempt to remove contaminated products, especially if you cut, saw, sand or drill them. If you’re concerned about asbestos in your home, the safest course of action is to talk to a knowledgeable professional.

At work:

  • Ask your employer about any asbestos health risks in your workplace
  • Never cut, saw, drill, sand, scrape or otherwise disturb asbestos-containing materials
  • Always wear proper protective gear when your work may disturb asbestos
  • Don’t bring home work clothes or shoes that may have been contaminated with asbestos
  • Don’t sweep, dust or vacuum asbestos debris
  • Always dispose of asbestos materials according to state and federal regulations
  • Never perform asbestos work for your employer if you are not trained and certified

Click here to learn more about mesothelioma or call OHC at 1-888-649-4800 and ask to speak with a member of our care team.

Sources: OHC, and The Mesothelioma Center,, and Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center.

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