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Why Is Mesothelioma So Deadly?



Mesothelioma is a rare and often misunderstood disease, arising almost exclusively in response to exposure to a material known as asbestos and presenting painful, deadly complications for most of the people who develop it. If you know anything about mesothelioma, you probably know that this is a deadly, aggressive form of cancer.

But what is it, specifically, that makes mesothelioma so deadly?

The Fundamentals of Mesothelioma

First, we need to understand the fundamentals of what mesothelioma is and how it works in the body. Nearly all cases of mesothelioma develop in response to asbestos exposure. Asbestos is an antiquated material that was once used for various construction purposes.

At the same time, it was convenient, it also contained tiny, jagged fibers that could lodge themselves in the tissue surrounding the lungs and abdomen. These fibers trigger inflammation, and with enough time, can cause the development of cancerous cells.

There are a few major types of mesothelioma, but the vast majority of cases are pleural mesothelioma, affecting the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma is the next most common type of mesothelioma, affecting the peritoneum around the abdomen.

It can take decades between asbestos exposure and the development of noticeable mesothelioma symptoms. Once the disease begins to grow and spread, it becomes very difficult to treat and impossible to cure. Modern scientific knowledge and treatment methods have advanced considerably, but patients still face difficult odds.

Limitations on Cures and Treatments

There is no cure for mesothelioma or for any cancer, for that matter. There are several reasons for this:

  • Disease complexity. Cancer is a very complex disease. Cancerous cells can develop in many different ways and affect the body in practically infinite ways. As cancer develops and spreads throughout the body, it becomes even more complex and difficult to address directly.
  • Malignant cells. Cancer doesn’t infect the body the way bacteria or viruses do; instead, cancer manifests as malignant cells. This makes it very hard to address areas of the body affected by cancer since half measures will be ineffective and could cause serious damage to the body.
  • Survival persistence. Making matters worse, cancer cells tend to be extremely resilient and capable of surviving all but the most extreme treatments. And of course, if even a few cells survive, they can reproduce and cause the cancer to come back.

Accordingly, it’s unfortunately likely that there will never be a true cure for all forms of cancer. There may not even be a cure for specific types of mesothelioma.

We do have several treatment methods that can be effective in managing the symptoms of mesothelioma and prolonging lifespans, including surgery, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. However, these methods are still somewhat limited, and even in a best-case scenario, cancer cells can survive and eventually proliferate.

Affected Areas

Mesothelioma is also deadly because of the potential areas affected by it. The most common type of mesothelioma affects the lungs, potentially affecting your breathing – a vital life function. If the cancer spreads, and it likely will, it could affect various essential systems throughout your body.

Development and Aggression

Mesothelioma is known as a particularly aggressive form of cancer. Essentially, this means that mesothelioma cells divide, reproduce, and spread much more rapidly than cells of other types of cancer.

It doesn’t take long for the disease to become more powerful, more prominent, and harder to treat. Even with treatment, most patients eventually succumb to this aggressiveness.

The Latency Period

Making things even worse, mesothelioma typically undergoes a latency period after initial asbestos exposure. This means that after being exposed to asbestos in any capacity, there will likely be a prolonged period in which you don’t notice any physical symptoms associated with the development of the disease.

Once this latency period is over, the disease will have grown to a point where it becomes very difficult to treat. Depending on many variables, the latency period can last anywhere from 10 to 50 years.

This is problematic for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, it means the disease can’t be reliably treated in the early stages – which is often crucial for cancer treatment success. It also means that many mesothelioma patients have already reached an advanced age, making it harder for them to successfully fight off the disease.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that mesothelioma is aggressive and deadly for several, complex, interconnected reasons. If you suspect you’ve been exposed to asbestos, even if it was 50 years ago, and even if you don’t notice any symptoms, it’s a good idea to get a proactive screening and pursue treatment (if necessary) as soon as possible.

While there is no cure for mesothelioma, it can often be successfully managed for many years – and your chances of finding that success increase the earlier you discover it.