World Cancer Day Can Help Promote Awareness of Mesothelioma

Did you know that February 4, 2010 has been designated World Cancer Day? Begun in 2005 by the International Union Against Cancer (UICC), World Cancer Day is a global initiative meant to raise awareness of cancer causes, prevention, research and treatment. Particularly important is educating the public about less-common cancers, such as mesothelioma.

Sometimes referred to as “asbestos cancer,” mesothelioma is often confused with lung cancer, but is actually a different disease. Mesothelioma targets the mesothelium, which is a thin membrane covering and protecting not only the lungs, but the heart and stomach as well. It also lines the thoracic and abdominal cavities, creating a dual layer. Like lung cancer, it can severely inhibit breathing, since one of the effects of mesothelioma is to fill this pleural space with fluid, which in turn makes it difficult for the lungs to fully expand.

Unlike lung cancer, however, mesothelioma is not curable through surgery, and it tends to be resistant to other forms of treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation. Some forms of surgery can be used to remove or eliminate excess pleural fluid in order to make the patient more comfortable, and pain medication can be administered, but mesothelioma is a fatal cancer. The median life expectancy of a mesothelioma patient is only 6 to 18 months. Fewer than 10 percent of those diagnosed with this rare cancer live longer than two years after receiving the devastating news.

There are approximately 3,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States annually. Across the world, nearly 20,000 people die from this terrible cancer.

Because of its link to past contact with asbestos, mesothelioma is a difficult cancer to prevent. In fact, most cases are not diagnosed until 30 or more years after the exposure to asbestos, as the disease has a long latency period. Yet, as with many cancers, early detection can lead to more effective treatment, a longer life expectancy, and improved quality of life. Therefore anyone who may have worked with asbestos—or lived with someone who did—is encouraged to learn the symptoms of mesothelioma, and to consult with their doctor if any of these symptoms begin to appear.

Although there is no cure for mesothelioma, there is hope. Help spread the word about this form of cancer, and about all forms of cancer prevention and treatment, on World Cancer Day, February 4, 2010.