February 20, 2019

Cause and Effect: Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Cause and Effect: Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Cause and Effect: Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is an uncommon form of cancer which affects the mesothelium. This is the lining that protects many of the body’s internal structures and organs. Because the mesothelium is present in many areas of the body, the cancer can affect several areas including, the most common of which is the lining of the lungs and chest wall. However, the cancer has also been detected in the abdominal wall as well as the sacs that surround the testes and the heart.


Mesothelioma is generally considered to be caused mainly by exposure to asbestos. In the majority of cases, sufferers of the cancer will have worked in environments where asbestos dust was present and the harmful fibers were inhaled. Prolonged exposure to asbestos is not always necessary; some cases have been documented where the sufferer had only minimal exposure to the substance. The direct link between asbestos and cancer was not established for a long time, as it can be several decades before the effects of asbestos exposure come to light.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Pleural mesothelioma (affecting the lungs) will cause symptoms including difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing up blood, wheezing and a build-up of fluid around the lung. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma (affecting the abdomen) include abdominal pain, anaemia, weight loss and bowel obstructions.

It can be difficult to diagnose mesothelioma because of the similarity of its symptoms to those of other diseases and conditions. If a patient’s history indicates possible asbestos exposure through work or other environmental factors, then mesothelioma may be suspected. Chest x-rays, CAT and MRI scans are used to detect abnormalities as well as the thoracoscopy procedure where a small camera is used to look inside the chest cavity and take samples for biopsy. A sample of any fluid surrounding the lungs may be tested for abnormal cells.

Treatment and Prognosis

There are several treatment options for mesothelioma including surgery to remove the lining of the lung, or the affected area. This is often combined with forms of chemo and radiotherapy in a ‘multimodality’ attempt to eradicate all remaining cancerous cells. This approach to treatment has extended post-operative survival time. However, a definitive cure has not yet emerged. Prognosis following treatment varies depending on the severity of the cancer and the size of the tumour.

Asbestos is now considered a highly dangerous substance and any work which risks exposure to it is controlled by health and safety regulations. However, this will have come too late for many who worked in contaminated environments decades ago before the risks were known.

The UK National Asbestos Helpline is available to give assistance and advice on issues relating to asbestos.


Cause and Effect: Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Cause and Effect: Asbestos and Mesothelioma