Children and Young Adults with a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

When we think of mesothelioma, we typically imagine older men who have worked in an industry and who have had serious asbestos exposure. While that is typically the case, mesothelioma can affect young adults and children in very rare instances. 

Who Usually Develops Mesothelioma? 

Mesothelioma in young adults and children is extraordinarily rare and is usually unexplained. 

This rare cancer is typically diagnosed in people who are over 65 years old and have been exposed to asbestos in the workplace, for an extended period of time. 

Occupational asbestos exposure is the leading cause of mesothelioma as many industries have used asbestos for decades. Asbestos is an incredibly strong, fire-resistance mineral with insulating properties. It was used in many industries such as construction, shipbuilding, mining, manufacturing, and more. 

The workers in these industries were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis, not realizing that in years or even decades, a deadly cancer called mesothelioma could start developing in their lungs. 

Some family members of these workers could also be exposed to asbestos second hand and could later go on to develop mesothelioma. 

How Do Young People Develop Mesothelioma? 

Since mesothelioma in young people is so rare, it’s incredibly difficult to study and pinpoint a particular cause.

There are some theories about the possible causes of mesothelioma in children and young adults. 

One of these possibilities is that young people may have been exposed to products that contain asbestos, being in an environment that contains asbestos, or exposure from a family member. Asbestos in older schools around the United States has gotten a lot of attention in the last couple of decades for the high levels of asbestos used in building materials. 

As these buildings deteriorate, harmful asbestos fibers and dust are released into the air, subjecting students and teachers to accidental exposure. This is one way that children and young adults could be exposed to asbestos. 

Another way children could possibly develop mesothelioma is in utero exposure to the antibiotic isoniazid. Another theory that still needs to be researched more is a possible genetic predisposition to mesothelioma. If this were the case, it would mean that occupational asbestos exposure is far more detrimental than thought possible. 

Asbestos in Schools

Asbestos is incredibly fire-resistant, so in the 1950s and 1960s, it was added to most construction materials including tiles, concrete, drywall, ceilings, and insulation. Many schools were built during this time, so we see higher rates of asbestos in school buildings

When these building materials are left alone in their intended form, they do not pose a threat for inhalation and harm.

As these older schools begin to deteriorate, building materials start to break down, releasing the harmful asbestos fibers and dust into the air where they can be inhaled. 

Where Can Asbestos Be Found In Schools? 

Asbestos is a mineral, so it is easily incorporated with other materials used in several major industries. Vinyl flooring, ceiling tiles, popcorn or textured ceilings, chalkboards, and sheets of cement are other common products that have added asbestos for insulation and fireproofing. 

It can also be found in ductwork for heating and cooling systems as well as insulation used for boilers and pipe wraps. 

Asbestos in schools is something that is highly regulated and is now monitored carefully. Each school system has a plan for asbestos management, including the safe removal of damaged products containing asbestos if necessary. With a lack of funding for the program though, it can be difficult to keep up with these regulations nationwide. 

Symptoms of Mesothelioma in Children

The symptoms of mesothelioma in children mirror the symptoms of mesothelioma in adults. In the beginning stages, symptoms may not present themselves, making mesothelioma very difficult to detect. 

When symptoms do present themselves, it usually means the cancer is in a later stage that is having a bigger impact on the body. Some of these symptoms include breathing problems and chest pain (which could indicate pleural mesothelioma, in the lungs) or digestive problems and abdominal pain (a result of peritoneal mesothelioma, around the abdomen). 

Especially in children, these symptoms could be easily explained away by numerous less serious and more common health conditions. It is also thought that mesothelioma may actually spread more quickly in children, which is how it can be detected sooner. 

If your child is experiencing any unexplained symptoms, it is always best to seek medical attention and guidance. 

Treating Mesothelioma in Children and Young Adults

Children and young adults are treated using the same types of treatment options as adults with mesothelioma.

One benefit that young people have is that they are more likely to have surgery to remove the tumors. Children and young people are more likely to successfully recover from aggressive treatment options because they are less likely to have other health problems that could complicate their healing and treatment. 

In addition to surgical options to remove the tumor, these younger patients will also be able to take advantage of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. 

Radiation therapy targets the tumors, but is risky because of the proximity of the tumors to major organs. Chemotherapy medications are the same ones given to adults but will be adjusted to account for the child’s size, age, and weight. 

Knowing the Options

Mesothelioma in children and young adults is incredibly rare, but it is still possible. Luckily, there are treatment options to help combat the long-term effects of mesothelioma for survivors or to elongate the life expectancy of those who are diagnosed. 

It is important to keep your children in overall good health, including a balanced diet and exercise going into treatment. Being healthy overall, combined with their advantage of being younger, will all help in improving their chances of successful treatment. 

As always, if you notice any symptoms in your child out of the ordinary, it’s important to seek medical attention so the symptoms can be treated the best as possible.