This disease of the lungs and stomach is one of the most aggressive forms of this life-threatening illness. Historical evidence confirms that this is largely a disease of the modern era linked with changes in working and living environments. The primary mesothelioma cancer is related to exposure to asbestos, but many other factors affect who is most likely to develop this dreadful disease. Typical survival rates vary between ten and twenty years depending on the exact form the disease takes and hence the doctors' ability to slow down its progress.
Nobody disputes that asbestos is the principal cause of mesothelioma cancer. For many years the heat-resistant qualities of this substance made it a firm favorite for use in buildings, ships and other structures where fire risks are a concern. Nobody realized that while the asbestos helps make these structures fireproof, it poses a serious health hazard to those who work with it. When asbestos is disturbed, it releases tiny fibers that easily enter the body through the nose or mouth. They stick to the linings of the lung and stomach and around the heart, and this leads to mesothelioma cancer.
The risk of getting mesothelioma cancer increases significantly for workers who need to handle asbestos, but research indicates that even living close to an asbestos factory makes contacting the disease that much more likely. Plumbers and electricians are two of the occupations most likely to be exposed to asbestos dust or fibers in the course of their jobs. Thankfully awareness of the dangers means that these workers now usually wear protective clothing. This protection should reduce the incidence of this disease in the future but since it can take up to 60 years to develop the number of new cases seems likely to continue to rise for the moment.
It has already been pointed out that the dust created by asbestos factories poses a health hazard to citizens who live nearby but family members of those who work with asbestos are also more likely to become ill than other people. Their illness happens because workers come home with asbestos fibers and dust stuck to their clothes and when their family is exposed to these substances they can develop the disease. Anyone who lives or works in a building where asbestos has been damaged or disturbed also seems to have a higher risk of becoming ill.
This particular disease cannot be passed on genetically, but it seems that certain people's genetic composition places them in a higher risk group. Medical scientists have not worked out why one person develops the disease after a single incidence of exposure to asbestos while others may work with it for years and stay healthy. This quagmire leads them to suspect there is a genetic element involved in the risk equation. Over recent years researchers in Hawaii believe they may have discovered an individual gene whose absence makes it more likely that the bearer will become ill from contact with asbestos. This gene could help explain the case of two people who work at the same job handling asbestos, but only one of them becomes ill.
The risk of developing mesothelioma cancer increases in proportion to the time this person is exposed to asbestos dust or fibers, but the substance is dangerous even in tiny amounts. Some people are concerned that even working or living in rooms with asbestos ceilings or walls places them at an increased risk, but there is no evidence that being in proximity to undisturbed asbestos increases risks of illness.
Medical statistics show that at least 90% of the sufferers from mesothelioma cancer developed the disease as a result of exposure to asbestos but modern research also demonstrates how various other factors can play a role. American researchers believe that contact with the simian virus 40 increases the risk of developing this disease from working with asbestos.
A particular kind of radiation exposure emerges as an additional although a much rarer cause of mesothelioma cancer. Over fifty years ago some X-ray machines used a chemical called thorium dioxide (Thorotrast). There is some indication that this chemical could have a similar effect to the asbestos exposure, but the evidence is not universally accepted.
One of the most surprising suggestions of a possible cause of mesothelioma cancer makes the simple can of paint a possible suspect. Statistics show that painters are one of the groups of worker at a higher risk of contracting this disease. At the moment the exact connection is not understood, but it seems probable that the link comes from some of the chemicals used in paint manufacture. Obviously, this evidence needs to be balanced against the enormous numbers of people around the world who work with paint without becoming dangerously ill.
While it is going to be hard to find anyone who has not heard about asbestos the same cannot be said about a mineral called erionite. This mineral is mined in Turkey, and North America but its uses are much more restricted. It is now probably best known for the connections medical researchers have found between it and this disease. Nevertheless, since most people are unlikely to work with it the risks it presents are much less than that asbestos poses.
Asbestos divides into blue, white and brown varieties. In the UK and some other countries the dangers of contact with blue asbestos fibers are widely publicized; its import has been banned, and it has been removed from many public buildings. Exposure to brown asbestos is also known to be very dangerous, and even though there is a clear link between white asbestos and mesothelioma cancer, it is still considered a danger to health.
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