Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Mesothelioma: A Quiet Killer

Many of us are aware that lung cancer is the United States leading cause of death behind heart disease and that other cancers, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer are receiving a great deal of attention in recent years. But I wish to touch upon a type of cancer that very few people are aware of-mesothelioma. Mesothelioma accounts for only one percent of cancers in the United States each year, but nevertheless is likely the most devastating of all malignancies.

Given the recent advancements and investments in cancer research over the past 25 years, it is rare that patients are told by their physicians that there is nothing they can do to help them. Unfortunately, with mesothelioma patients, this is too often the norm. Mesothelioma forms in the lining of the body’s internal organs, most often in the cell wall that lines the lungs. As the tumor grows around the lung and chest wall, it begins to collapse chest expansion and limit breathing. Untreated disease often results in suffocation of the patient.

Mesothelioma is known only to be caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos was an industrial insulation material used throughout different industries until it was found to be carcinogenic. Studies indicate that while mesothelioma is relatively rare at the present, incidence will increase in the next decade as the disease will often not manifest for 40-50 years after initial exposure to asbestos, meaning many are living right now who have the devastation of terminal cancer in their future.

What we need is more research into new therapies to treat mesothelioma, particularly given the expected rise in incidence. We need more physicians like Dr. David Jablons of the UCSF School of Medicine, who is experimenting with multi-faceted approaches and immunotoxin therapies for advanced disease. We need more national investment not only in cancers like lung and breast malignancies, but also rare cancers like mesothelioma. Progress we have made in recent years in the treatment of cancer in general can be attributed to this type of research and investment. Let’s extend that to all cancers, so that we may finally eradicate disease like mesothelioma.

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