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Malignant Mesothelioma Overview

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer found in the mesothelium, the protective sac that surrounds most of the body's internal organs, such as the lungs, heart, and abdominal cavity. Most cases of mesothelioma develop in the mesothelium that covers the lungs and lines the chest wall (pleura) or in the mesothelium that lines the abdominal cavity (peritoneum). These cancer cells can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body if not treated.

Because malignant mesothelioma takes a long time to develop (30-40 years) and tends to have early symptoms that are similar to those for other common conditions, the cancer may go undetected until it has progressed to later stages.

Asbestos exposure is known to be the major cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fiber that can be found in such products as cement, brake linings, roof shingles, flooring products, textiles, and insulation.  People who are exposed to asbestos and inhale or ingest asbestos fibers are at highest risk for developing mesothelioma. Most of these exposures involve on-the-job exposures for workers such as miners, ship builders, insulators, construction workers, and railroad workers. Renovation of older buildings and homes may also be a source of asbestos exposure.

Although higher levels of exposure to asbestos generally increase a person's risk for developing mesothelioma, not all persons heavily exposed develop the cancer. Occasionally, individuals have developed mesothelioma, even though they have experienced no known, or very low levels, of exposure to asbestos. However, the best way to prevent malignant mesothelioma is to avoid or limit exposure to asbestos fibers.



Hope Through Research - You Can Be Part of the Answer!

Many research studies are underway to help us learn about mesothelioma. Would you like to find out more about being part of this exciting research? Please visit the following links:


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Last Reviewed: Jan 12, 2012