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Mesothelioma or cancer of the mesothelium is a rare disease that invades the lining of tissue surrounding vital organs.  The cells of the mesothelium become abnormal and divide without control or order and can attack nearby tissues and organs.  Cancer cells can also metastasize or spread from their original site to other parts of the body.   Most cases of mesothelioma begin in the pleura or peritoneum.

Mesothelioma is very hard to diagnose and treat.  Because of the aggressive nature of mesothelioma and the difficulty to control, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) sponsors clinical trials or research studies with people designed to find new mesothelioma treatments.  The clinical trials also try to find better ways to use current treatments.  Generally speaking, doctors conduct clinical trials to find out whether the treatment is safe for patients and effective against the disease.  The clinical trials are done before the treatment is ready for general use.  Participation in clinical trials is an important consideration for treatment options for patients diagnosed with mesothelioma.

The first inquiry in taking part in a clinical trial for a mesothelioma patient should be with their doctor.  Another resource for finding more information about mesothelioma clinical trials is the Cancer Information Service (CIS) with the NCI.  The CIS maintains a cancer information database to identify and provide detailed information about specific ongoing clinical trials.  The CIS can be contacted by calling 1-800-4-CANCER.  Another resource is NCI’s clinical trial web page located on the Cancer.gov Web site, located at http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials.  This web page provides general information about clinical trials.  To find a detailed list of mesothelioma clinical trials go to ClinicalTrials.gov.  Patients, of course, also have the option of searching for clinical trials on their own.

Malignant Mesothelioma, coronal CT scan. Legen...Image via Wikipedia

The Italian biotechnology company, MolMed S.p.A, announced the expansion of its anticancer drug NGR-hTNF for the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma into the United States, Canada and the European Union.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer linked to asbestos exposure that attacks the lining of the organs – lung, heart and abdomen.  The most common is malignant pleural mesothelioma or cancer of the lining of the lungs.  Mesothelioma has a long latency period and symptoms are non-specific, so in most cases diagnosis is difficult before the advanced stages of the disease.  Typical mesothelioma treatment includes chemotherapy, surgery and radiation in an effort to extend the patient’s life.

Asbestos fibres - a single fibre is believed t...Image via Wikipedia

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) will hold its 7th Annual Asbestos Awareness Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on April 1-3.  The conference titled Asbestos:  Impact on Public Health, Environment, and the Economy will have presentations on asbestos exposure issues, asbestos detection and treatment, environmental and economic impact, national and global policy.  Asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases.

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer linked to asbestos exposure.  Mesothelioma cancer invades the mesothelium – the lining of tissue that surround vital organs.  The most common is pleural mesothelioma or cancer of the lining of the lungs.  Mesothelioma also attacks the lining of either the heart, abdomen, or testicles.  Symptoms of mesothelioma generally occur approximately 20 to 30 years after the asbestos exposure and include shortness of breath, chest pain and a persistent cough.  In most instances, mesothelioma is diagnosed in the advanced stages leaving the victim with 8 months to 18 months to live.  Mesothelioma is treated with chemotherapy, surgery and radiation in an effort to extend the patient’s life.

Mesothelioma Awareness Week has been designated for the first week in April in an effort to raise awareness for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.  The Mesothelioma Awareness Week resolution makes the point that individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma are expected to survive 6 to 24 months after the diagnosis.  The resolution also urges the Surgeon General to warn the public about asbestos-related health issues.

Montana Senator Baucus proposed Mesothelioma Awareness Week to remember the asbestos-related tragedies of the past and to look to the future in helping those victims and families who are affected by asbestos-related diseases.  Senator Baucus went on to say that the resolution for the Mesothelioma Awareness week was a “rallying cry to keep the tragedy of Libby from happening again” and was proposed in an effort to “remind people that much more work lies ahead to help victims of asbestos-related diseases.”  Additional cosponsors and key supporters include:  Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT).

Senator Baucus represents the Libby, Montana residents where it is estimated that sixty percent of the people living in Libby has some asbestos-related disease due to the Libby Mines nearby.  The Libby Mines operated from 1919 to 1990 when W.R. Grace halted operations.  During its operations, this was one of the most productive asbestos vermiculite mines.  Those affected by the Libby Mines include miners, mill workers, families and neighbors of the Libby Mine site.

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Mesothelioma is described as localized if the cancer is found only on the membrane surface where it originated. It is classified as advanced if it has spread beyond the original membrane surface to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, chest wall, or abdominal organs.

Diagnosing mesothelioma is often difficult, because the symptoms are similar to those of a number of other conditions. Diagnosis begins with a review of the patient’s medical history, including any history of asbestos exposure. A complete physical examination may be performed, including x-rays of the chest or abdomen and lung function tests. A CT (or CAT) scan or an MRI may also be useful. A CT scan is a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. In an MRI, a powerful magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures are viewed on a monitor and can also be printed.

A biopsy is needed to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma. In a biopsy, a surgeon or a medical oncologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer) removes a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. A biopsy may be done in different ways, depending on where the abnormal area is located. If the cancer is in the chest, the doctor may perform a thoracoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor makes a small cut through the chest wall and puts a thin, lighted tube called a thoracoscope into the chest between two ribs. Thoracoscopy allows the doctor to look inside the chest and obtain tissue samples. If the cancer is in the abdomen, the doctor may perform a peritoneoscopy. To obtain tissue for examination, the doctor makes a small opening in the abdomen and inserts a special instrument called a peritoneoscope into the abdominal cavity. If these procedures do not yield enough tissue, more extensive diagnostic surgery may be necessary.

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Sheet metal workers make, install and maintain ductwork for heating and air-conditioning systems.  Sheet metal workers can be found in the construction, automobile, aircraft and ship building industries.  In the construction industry context, sheet metal workers often work in what is called the “dead” spaces or the spaces behind the walls and ceiling where spray-on asbestos insulation has been applied or where asbestos sheeting was installed in the past.  As a result, sheet metal workers are at risk for asbestos exposure.

Many sheet metal workers are unaware of the risk of working in and around asbestos-containing products until the diagnosis of mesothelioma or an asbestos related disease.  The harmful effects of asbestos exposure began to gain national attention in the mid 1970’s because of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.  As a result, government agencies began to warn and protect workers with the use of protective gear.  Today, the greatest risk of exposure for sheet metal workers are those working in and around structures built and insulated before the mid 70’s that have yet to be renovated satisfactorily.

A study conducted by Duke University and the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust confirmed that sheet metal workers are at an increased risk for developing asbestos-related diseases.  In that study, researchers followed sheet metal workers from 1986 to 2004 with 20 or more years of experience.  The researchers concluded through statistical modeling that sheet metal workers were at significant risk of developing pleural cancers, mesothelioma and asbestosis.  Sheet metal workers were also at a higher risk for developing asbestos-related lung cancer.

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