There is no universally recommended or accurate screening test for mesothelioma, but there are multiple diagnostic tests that can help determine if someone may have this type of cancer. It is a deadly and aggressive type of cancer that is most closely associated with exposure to asbestos. Most people diagnosed with mesothelioma are in the later stages when curing it is impossible and all that can be done is extend the patient’s life or provide palliative care. Not everyone needs to be worried about mesothelioma, a rare cancer, but if you have risk factors, getting checked now is one of the best things you can do for your health.
Who is at Risk for Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer that attacks the mesothelium, the tissue that covers most organs in the body. The most common type is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the pleura around the lungs, but even this type of mesothelioma is rare. This cancer is most often caused by exposure to asbestos, but there have been rare cases in people never exposed to asbestos, which suggest a genetic component.
The people most likely to develop mesothelioma are those who worked around asbestos for many years, especially before about 1980. Workers in construction, ship building and repair, in the U.S. Navy, in mining, in the automotive industry, in power plants and industrial settings, in textile and other types of factories, and firefighters are those that now may be at the greatest risk of being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Anyone with a family history of this cancer may also be at an elevated risk.
Mesothelioma Has a Long Latency Period
The latency period for mesothelioma—the time between being exposed to asbestos and being diagnosed—has been found to be as long as 50 years with a mean period of several decades. By the time someone is diagnosed the disease has been quietly developing for years and is usually advanced, difficult to treat, and incurable. Most people diagnosed with mesothelioma are men over the age of 50, many over 70. The reasons for the long latency period include symptoms that are similar to those of less serious conditions, difficulties in diagnosing mesothelioma, the rarity of this cancer, and the f act that symptoms may not become severe until later stages.
The Consequences of a Late Diagnosis
This long latency period for mesothelioma has serious consequences. By the time someone is diagnosed, they may have few treatment options. The cancer may even have already metastasized, making even surgery impossible. There are many reasons that most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the later stages, but some of these can be avoided.
If you believe you may be at an increased risk for this type of cancer, you can undergo screenings, such as CT scans and biopsies, to find out if it is possible that you have mesothelioma. If you worked in a career that could have exposed you to asbestos, or someone in your family has it, talk to your doctor about the options you have for screening. Doing it now could mean many more years of life and a chance to beat the cancer if you have it.
- By Virgil Anderson
Virgil Anderson is currently fighting against Mesothelioma, a disease caused by asbestos. At the age of 50, Virgil is staying with family in West Virginia where he is taken care of during his treatments.
“Mesothelioma Diagnosis,” Mesothelioma.net.
“Diseases and Conditions: Mesothelioma,” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).
“Occupational Characteristics of Cases with Asbestos-related Diseases in The Netherlands” Oxford University Press.