This is a rare, but extremely aggressive and incurable form of cancer, which attacks the protective membrane covering vital organs like the heart and lungs.
Unlike other conditions linked with asbestos exposure – for example lung cancer – mesothelioma can only be contracted by those who come into direct, regular contact with asbestos over an extended period of time.
This makes it relatively uncommon, but it is also currently incurable, with only palliative care available to those suffering from it.
In order to be at serious risk of contracting mesothelioma, it is necessary to have been exposed to asbestos fibres for a relatively lengthy period – such as six months or more.
Essentially this means people working in environments that utilise asbestos, which can include those working in shipyards, in the building trade, former navy workers, and car mechanics.
More about Mesothelioma
A further example of those potentially at risk would be those involved in rescue and cleanup operations following the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, with many of those who took part in these operations having subsequently shown indications of the kinds of health problems commonly attributed to asbestos exposure.
The fact that these operations date back to 2001, and symptoms are only being reported now, demonstrates another of the factors peculiar to mesothelioma and other asbestos-related health conditions – the extended period in which these conditions lie dormant before physical symptoms begin to manifest themselves.
Mesothelioma and other asbestos related health conditions can often take up to twenty years, following the contact with asbestos, to become apparent, which hindered medical professionals in establishing the link between the conditions and asbestos for a considerable time.
Once the condition has been diagnosed, there are palliative treatments which can help the patient to maintain some quality of life, but there is no cure and the condition cannot be treated using conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy.