Causes of Mesothelioma and Why It Affects Seniors
Mesothelioma is a cancer that is diagnosed in approximately 3,000 Americans a year, and most of them are seniors. It strikes a disproportionate amount of military veterans because the U.S. Armed Forces used asbestos, the primary cause of the cancer.
Mesothelioma develops in the lining of certain organs. Pleural mesothelioma, which develops around the lungs, accounts for two-thirds of all cases. Peritoneal mesothelioma forms around the abdomen, and it represents about 20 percent of cases.
The cancer is often fast-growing and doesn’t cause symptoms until later stages of development. Common treatments for mesothelioma involve chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and some people qualify for aggressive surgery that extends survival.
Exposure to asbestos is documented in roughly 90 percent of people with mesothelioma. It’s possible that unknown asbestos exposure causes some of the remaining cases.
However, scientific research suggests there are other causes of mesothelioma.
Causes of Mesothelioma
In addition to asbestos, other minerals can cause mesothelioma. Researchers have also documented an increased risk of mesothelioma among those with radiation exposure and simian virus 40.
Currently, six minerals are classified as asbestos: Chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite.
These minerals are flexible, chemically inert, strong and heat-resistant. They were used in thousands of products throughout the 20th century. People who worked labor jobs in factories, power plants, insulation, construction, shipyards and firefighting were more at risk of exposure.
There are other minerals that resemble asbestos and they’re commonly called asbestiform minerals.
The infamous Libby, Montana, vermiculite mine that operated until 1991 is contaminated with asbestos and the asbestiform minerals known as winchite and richterite. Researchers suspect these asbestiform minerals contributed to the overall carcinogenetic effect of the ore extracted from the Libby mine.
There’s another mineral that resembles asbestos, a type of zeolite mineral known asbestiform erionite. This mineral is prevalent in North Dakota and was widely used throughout Dunn County as filler for gravel roads, baseball fields, playgrounds, soil and parking lots. Cases of mesothelioma are disproportionally high in Dunn County and researchers suspect the use of erionite is to blame.
Erionite has caused generations of Turkish families to develop mesothelioma in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Families in this region use the mineral to whitewash their homes, in construction of homes and even build their homes alongside erionite-bearing stone.
Scientific studies show a correlation between ionizing radiation and mesothelioma. This correlation is documented more frequently in survivors of Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a disease commonly diagnosed in younger people.
Radiation can damage DNA, and researchers suspect that radiation therapy for lymphoma could cause genetic damage that leads to mesothelioma.
Simian Virus 40
While not entirely proven, some studies show a correlation between simian virus 40 (SV-40) and mesothelioma. Researchers don’t currently suspect that SV-40 causes mesothelioma, but there’s a chance it could increase risk alongside heavy asbestos exposure.
The combination of asbestos and SV-40 might damage DNA in ways that increase the risk of mesothelioma. This potential, unproven relationship might be similar to that of asbestos and cigarette smoking, which drastically increases the risk of lung cancer.
Mesothelioma in Seniors
It takes anywhere between 20 and 50 years for asbestos to damage parts of DNA that lead to mesothelioma. Because of this long latency period, the cancer most commonly develops in seniors.
On average, most patients are more than 65 years old when diagnosed.
Initial symptoms of the form of mesothelioma that develops around the lungs include chest pain, difficulty breathing and coughing. The form that develops around the abdomen causes symptoms such as abdominal bloating, digestive issues and weight loss.
Working with an experienced mesothelioma specialist will ensure patients receive the best care possible. These experts know how to treat the disease and manage mesothelioma symptoms.
For patients who are diagnosed early enough or respond well to treatment, surgery might be an option, and it gives the greatest chance of long-term survival. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy ease symptoms, improve quality of life and possibly extend life beyond the typical one-year cancer prognosis.
With top-notch medical care and a good support team, seniors with mesothelioma can maintain quality.