A group of nine doctors from New York University, the University of Hawaii and other research universities who specialize in treating mesothelioma patients discussed facts, theories and myths about mesothelioma in an article in the Journal of Cell Physiology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Their findings, made available online in January 2013, are well worth revisiting at the outset of the new year.
Here are 13 bold points from the article:
- More than 20 million people in the United States are at risk of developing malignant mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure.
- The duration and intensity of an individual’s exposure to asbestos are important variables affecting the likelihood of development of asbestos disease.
- All studies agree that the incidence of mesothelioma among men has continued to rise during the last five decades, while the incidence among women has remained relatively flat. More than 100,000 U.S. citizens are expected to die of mesothelioma during the next 40 years.
- The development of mesothelioma is related to the chronic inflammatory process caused by the presence of microscopic asbestos fibers in the chest cavity.
- Development of malignant mesothelioma has been associated with commercial use of asbestos in the early and mid 20th century. Prior to the 1950s, malignant mesothelioma tumors were extremely rare.
- Today, malignant mesothelioma is responsible for approximately 2,500 to 3,000 deaths per year in the United States and approximately 5,000 deaths in Western Europe.
- It’s a myth that asbestos has been banned in commercial products in the United States. Countries in the European Union have banned asbestos use, but not the U.S. The continued import of products containing asbestos in the U.S. and potential exposure to asbestos in place means workers exposed to the mineral fibers will continue to be at risk of developing mesothelioma.
- It’s a myth that malignant mesothelioma will soon disappear because of reduced use of the product. The rate of malignant mesothelioma has remained constant since 1994 and is increasing in some countries.
- It’s a myth that mesothelioma is a slow growing tumor. Mesothelioma grows aggressively once the cancer develops and most likely produces clinical symptoms within a few years. There is a long latency period of 20 to 70 years between initial exposure to asbestos fibers and the development of mesothelioma. The distinction is important. The latency period appears to be influenced by the amount of exposure. Workers in trades with higher exposure to asbestos may have shorter latency periods before the cancer develops.
- Due to the long latency period, researchers estimate that mesothelioma mortality rates will continue to increase 5 to 10 percent per year in most industrialized countries for the next two to three decades despite efforts to get rid of asbestos. In the U.S, the number of mesothelioma deaths is likely to exceed 3,000 per year. Approximately 20 to 25 percent of deaths due to mesothelioma in the U.S. are misattributed to other causes.
- A mesothelioma patient’s survival is influenced by the stage of the cancer upon treatment.
- Stage I is the localized cancer while Stage IV describes advanced cancer that has spread beyond the point of origin. Among 663 patients who underwent surgical procedures for mesothelioma from the 1990 through 2006, the median survival was:
- Stage I mesothelioma — 38 months median survival
- Stage II mesothelioma—19 months
- Stage III mesothelioma—11 months
- Stage IV mesothelioma—7 months
- It’s expected that development of reliable blood tests that can lead to earlier detection of mesothelioma before it has advanced to stage III or IV will increase the percentage of patients who are candidates for surgery and increase overall survival.