Mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer, is a disease in which the protective membrane surrounding the lungs becomes malignant. It is distinguished from the more prevalent forms of lung cancer by the fact that it originates in the mesothelium—the protective layer of membrane surrounding the lungs-- rather than in the lungs themselves. Mesothelioma cancer is often more intractable than ordinary lung cancer.
Malignant mesothelioma is sometimes referred to as “Asbestos Lung Cancer,” because its main cause is the inhalation of asbestos dust particles. While workplace exposure to asbestos has declined sharply over the past several decades, those who were exposed many years ago may still be at risk. Mesothelioma's latency period (the gap in time between exposure to the carcinogen and the first appearance of symptoms) is long: often up to 25 years or longer.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately 70% to 80% of all mesothelioma cancer cases occur in individual with a work history that includes prolonged exposure to asbestos.
Those most at risk for mesothelioma include those who worked at, or lived near, refineries, factories, shipyards, building demolition sites, mills, power plants, and construction sites. People working at these sites are obviously most at risk of developing mesothelioma cancer, but their families may be vulnerable to malignant mesothelioma as well. While the worker inhales the tiny particles daily and directly, he or she may also carry the fibers home on clothing and hair, exposing others in the home to their harmful effects. In addition, asbestos particles are easily carried by winds, placing communities close to these sites at risk of mesothelioma cancer as well.
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