September 26th is National Meso (mesothelioma) Awareness Day. Begun by the Meso Foundation, this day is dedicated to raise awareness of the problems, symptoms, and need for research into mesothelioma, one of the lesser-known forms of cancer.
In simplest terms, the tissues that line our lungs, heart, stomach and other organs are called “mesothelium.” When these cells develop cancer, it’s called mesothelioma, or meso for short. Meso is very painful because as the cancer cells grow, they crush the lungs. A person with mensothelioma may eventually be suffocated so that breathing is painful, or the heart or other organs can be crushed as the cancer grows. Most people who are diagnosed with meso die within 4 to 14 months.
Meso is caused by asbestos exposure. It can take years (30, 40, or even 50 years) to develop. According to the Meso Foundation, the U.S. EPA identified asbestos as,” one of the most hazardous substances to which humans are exposed in both occupational and non-occupational settings.”
The Navy, shipyard workers, household products, and many appliances, residential and commercial construction have all used asbestos. It’s still around and in many schools, homes, and businesses. Even small exposure to asbestos particles can cause meso. Although the air was declared “safe” after 9/11, rescue workers and first-responders may have been exposed to high amounts of particulates in the air, including asbestos. Some people estimate that at least 400 tons of asbestos was released into the air in New York after the towers collapsed on 9/11.
The EPA estimates that over 20 million American workers have been exposed to asbestos particles. Every year approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma. While it’s still a rare form of cancer, it is expected to affect more people since it takes so long to develop and so many, many people have been exposed to asbestos in recent years.
According to the Meso Foundation, treatments for mesothelioma were largely ignored. While asbestos was known to be a carcinogenic, businesses were allowed to continue using it. Developing treatments for meso were ignored, perhaps because of potential legal minefields.
With a myriad of reasons behind it, the bottom line is that funding for research into treating meso has lagged far behind that of other forms of cancer. The Meso Foundation hopes to change this by drawing awareness to this rare, but painful, form of cancer. Todays treatment consistes of chemotherapy and radiation.
There is a growing need to understand more about meso. It can be difficult to diagnose and is regularly missed. Once a meso diagnosis is finally made, survival rates are bleak.
Actor Steve McQueen died of meso only 11 months after his diagnosis in 1980. In 2003, singer-songwriter Warren Zevon was also diagnosed with meso. He died one year after being diagnosed with it. The treatment of meso has not changed much since 1980.