Malignant mesothelioma is one of the few cancers in the world today that can be traced directly to a man-made cause that could have been avoided.
The rare, deadly cancer attacks the thin lining surrounding the lungs or abdominal cavity. The only known cause is inhalation or ingestion of asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral that was mined and used extensively for commercial use in the 20th century, despite a well-known, toxic past.
Although the use of asbestos is reduced dramatically from what it was in recent decades, it remains in businesses, schools, homes and a multitude of products across the globe. And though asbestos exposure remains an issue in the United States, it is a much greater issue overseas, particularly in India, Pakistan, Australia, Russia and Canada.
An estimated 3,000 Americans each year are diagnosed with mesothelioma, and 10,000 people die annually from a variety of asbestos-related illnesses. Asbestos fibers also can cause lung cancer, asbestosis and other serious respiratory illnesses.
The disease typically carries a long latency period (10 to 50 years) between first exposure and diagnosis, and the early symptoms often mirror those of much less serious health issues: a nagging cough, raspy breath and chest pain. Too often, the disease is not diagnosed until after it has metastasized, which can make successful treatment problematic.
Awareness and Exposure
Awareness is crucial to avoiding mesothelioma and all asbestos-related diseases. In the past, mesothelioma was mostly an occupational disease. Most at risk were those in mining, construction, ship building, plumbing, and all branches of the military, where it was used extensively.
Asbestos typically is not dangerous until it becomes brittle with age, or is disturbed through the renovation, remodeling or demolition of structures. The microscopic fibers can become airborne, posing a risk for anyone in close proximity.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that asbestos-containing materials can be found in 700,000 public and commercial buildings in America today. It also estimates that 500,000 of those contain as least some damaged asbestos.
It can be in floors, walls, ceilings and roofs, along with plumbing and electrical fixtures. Asbestos was once coveted for its ability to insulate, strengthen and resist heat. Although its toxicity was known since early in the 20th century, its use continued because it had such commercial value.
The early symptoms of mesothelioma can take years to appear. Because those symptoms also can be the signs of any number of less serious problems, and many medical professionals rarely see mesothelioma, it’s important to talk to your doctor about possible past asbestos exposure. With a doctor’s help, it is possible to improve a mesothelioma prognosis.
It could take numerous tests to make a definitive determination, which makes seeing a specialist critical. If a diagnosis is confirmed, only a cancer center with experience in the disease can treat it effectively.
There is no cure, but today’s multimodal treatment approach shows promise. There also are various alternative therapies that have been effective in treating some patients who opt against standard treatment.
Complementary and Alternative Treatment
There also are a variety of complementary and alternative therapies that mesothelioma patients have used successfully. Many have been used in combination with, or instead of, conventional medicines.
While the alternative medicines don’t promise a cure – and come without recommendation of the FDA — they have increased survival rates, according to many patients who have used them. Many are naturally occurring and come without the toxic side effects often associated with conventional medicines.
They include various plant extracts, amino acids, vitamins and herbal teas. Among the plant extracts are Astragalus, Celandine, Mistletoe and Cat’s Claw. Patients have used things like acupuncture, chiropractic care, electrical nerve stimulation, massage and meditation, while avoiding the traditional painkilling drugs.
There are mesothelioma survivors who insist that changing to a healthier, anti-oxidant diet that includes large quantities of carrot, beetroot and green juices have worked for them. One long-time survivor insists that the melatonin in red tart cherries that he eats daily keeps his mesothelioma from advancing. Others have found success with a diet that revolves around cold-pressed flaxseed oil and cottage cheese.
Some mesothelioma survivors endorse homeopathic medicine, which is based around stimulating the body’s own immune system with natural remedies to fight off specific diseases, or specific side effects. For example, mesothelioma patients have used cadmium sulphuricum to offset the toxic side effects of chemotherapy.
Although not always accepted by the general medical community, many of the alternative and complementary treatments have worked selectively for various patients.
Author bio: Tim Povtak is a senior writer at Asbestos.com. He has written about asbestos exposure and asbestos-disease issues since 2011, after a long career as a newspaper journalist.