2010 Declared the Year of the Lung for Mesothelioma Sufferers and Others

The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS), which recently convened at the 40th Union World Conference on Lung Health, held in Cancun, Mexico, have declared 2010: The Year of the Lung. This will be welcome news to those suffering from the deadly asbestos cancer mesothelioma.

According to statistics provided by FIRS, more than 10 million people die every year from lung diseases, including the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is usually caused by occupational exposure to asbestos. Once widely used as an insulating and building material because of its strength, flexibility and resistance to heat, asbestos has since been phased out of use because of its toxicity and carcinogenicity. The microscopic fibers in the asbestos material, after being inhaled, can pierce and penetrate the mesothelium, which is a thin membrane lining the thoracic and peritoneal cavities and surrounding the organs.

The fibers, which cannot be breathed or coughed out, or otherwise expelled from the body, cause the mesothelial cells to replicate erratically, resulting in malignancy. Diagnosed in roughly 3,000 new patients in the United States each year, and thousands more globally, mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive cancer. The average life expectancy for patients is only18 months, with many of the afflicted living for only a few months, or even weeks, after diagnosis. Mesothelioma has no cure, and can be difficult to effectively treat, because it is usually only discovered in the later stages, when surgery is no longer feasible. Chemotherapy and radiation can be employed to combat the disease, but patients with more advanced mesothelioma may not feel that the benefits of these treatments outweigh the side effects, and therefore choose only palliative care and pain management. FIRS is calling for increased research funding, strengthened health-care systems and equitable distribution of health resources, and widespread initiatives of education about lung diseases and lung health.