Mesothelioma is an extremely painful, almost always fatal cancer that approximately 2,500 people are diagnosed with each year. The sad fact is that, approximately 2,500 people die from Mesothelioma each year. There is no known cure, but through education, research, support, and advocacy we can provide hope and life-saving treatment to the thousands dying each year.

   Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops from the protective lining that covers many of the body's internal organs, the mesothelium. It is usually caused by exposure to asbestos. Its most common site is the pleura (outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall), but it may also occur in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity), the pericardium (a sac that surrounds the heart), or the tunica vaginalis (a sac that surrounds the testis).

   Asbestos has been used virtually everywhere in industry, manufacturing, and construction even though it’s carcinogenic and respiratory lethality was well known to medicine, industry and the government. As a result, tens of millions of Americans have suffered dangerous exposures and are at risk of mesothelioma today, according to the EPA. When workers brought the fibers home on their skin, hair and clothes, their families were exposed too. It has also been found that washing the clothes of a family member who worked with asbestos can put a person at risk for developing Mesothelioma.

In fact, asbestos still has not been banned in the USA. Every year, the hazards of asbestos increases as more of the carcinogen are introduced into our environment. Asbestos is still used in roofing and other building materials, and in many consumer products including vehicle brakes. As a result, everyday occurrences like going to work, simple remodeling projects, or the normal wear of roofing materials, tiles or brakes on a family vehicle are exposing Americans to the hazardous risk of mesothelioma.

   Also the September 11 collapse of the Twin Towers in New York City released hundreds of tons of finely pulverized asbestos into the atmosphere. Countless individuals on that day and in the months of clean-up that followed were exposed. Particularly at risk are the heroic rescue workers, who worked extensively and for long duration in the contaminated areas. The impact pulverized this asbestos into tiny, microscopic fibers to which the firefighters, rescue workers and other heroes of 9/11 were exposed. In the weeks and months following workers, residents and school children in the area continued to be exposed.

   After meso’s long latency period, which is typically from between 25 and 50 years, the risk of cancer among those most heavily exposed could reach as high as one in ten. Less than 1 percent of patients have a latency period shorter than 15 years. The disease is commonly diagnosed in people between the ages of 50 and 70 years. Males are four times more likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma than females. Three-fourths of cases develop in the pleura. About 10 to 20 percent form in the abdomen. Approximately 50 percent of patients will experience a life span of 8 to 18 months after diagnosis. About 30 percent or more have a chance of living five years or longer. Thus, even if asbestos were banned today, and it absolutely should be, the meso epidemic would continue for decades and cry out urgently for development of better treatments.

   We need a national commitment to a cure. Mesothelioma was identified in medical literature by the late 1940’s. However, for decades the need for research to develop effective treatments for mesothelioma patients was ignored, obscured by the legal, economic and political aspects of asbestos. The National Cancer Institute’s annual investment in clinical mesothelioma research has been, on a per death basis, only a fraction of its investment in other cancers. As a result, advancements in the treatment of mesothelioma have lagged far behind other cancers. According to the National Institutes of Health, the median survival of mesothelioma patients is only 14 months, with most patients dying within two years.

   But there is hope. By raising awareness more monies will be earmarked for research and someday we can eradicate this dreadful cancer. Federal investment in the research needed to develop earlier detection and more effective treatment is essential to provide hope to the thousands of Americans who will become sick as a result of asbestos exposures that have already occurred or that will inevitably occur given the virtual ubiquity of asbestos in our environment. The proliferation of asbestos must be stopped. Over 40 industrialized countries have already banned asbestos; the United States should also protect its citizens by enacting an immediate asbestos ban.

For more information go to Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.

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markwells@Kayaking4Meso.org