What is mesothelioma?
There are spaces, called cavities or sacs, in the body that hold different internal organs. For example, the lungs sit in the pleural cavity, the stomach in the peritoneal cavity and the heart in the pericardium sac.
All of these cavities are lined with a membrane called the mesothelium. This thin lining produces fluids that lubricate the space between the organ and the cavity wall, which allows for movement during processes like breathing, when the lungs fill up with air. Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects these linings.
Mesothelioma is a fairly rare disease. Approximately 3,000 people, mostly over the age of 65, are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the United States each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Mesothelioma is strongly associated with exposure to asbestos, a fibrous mineral used in construction materials for many years. People who have been exposed to asbestos may have inhaled tiny fibers that can remain in the lungs for 20 to 50 years. During this lengthy period of time, mesothelioma may slowly develop.