Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that has been linked to asbestos exposure. This cancer was not identified until 1909 and has since become well known because of the dark history of asbestos exposure that comes with it.
Mesothelioma truly is a mysterious disease. This type of cancer is very rare and therefore there are not many doctors who have extensive experience with mesothelioma. Without experience, it is more difficult for mesothelioma to be diagnosed.
Many of the symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to other, less serious health problems, leading to frequent misdiagnosis.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that the link between mesothelioma and asbestos exposure was common knowledge. Now, doctors can ask for an employment history that will help to identify if patients worked in an industry where they may have been exposed to asbestos. Before the 1960s there was just no way to narrow down the diagnosis based on work experience because the two weren’t linked yet.
The 1960s is still pretty recent as far as medical history goes and there is still a lot of research being done on mesothelioma since the disease is still incurable to this day.
The Discovery of Mesothelioma
In 1767, the first mention of a tumor in the lining of the lungs was reported by Joseph Lieutaud in France. He published a study on 3,000 autopsies he conducted and all of his findings. One of the findings was several tumors on the lining of the lungs. This is the first known documented case of what we would later come to learn is mesothelioma.
There was some debate about whether a cancer in the lining of the lungs could be its own form of cancer or if it was just a byproduct of another, primary cancer in the body. It was decided for some time that this type of cancer was always secondary to another cancer.
It wasn’t until the 1900s that the medical community shifted its opinion, stating that it was indeed possible for cancer to originate in the lining of the lungs.
The Link Between Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure
The first published declaration of the link between mesothelioma and asbestos exposure came from a German by the name of H.W. Wedler. He made this discovery after about 20% of workers in the German asbestos industries developed lung cancer. The world was not yet ready to accept this research as fact until much later.
Another medical researcher, J.C. Wagner published a similar study out of South Africa. There was a large asbestos mining operation in South Africa and J.C. Wagner documented 33 cases of mesothelioma in people that either worked in or lived close to the asbestos mines.
Wagner went on later to discredit his own research and it was discovered that he was being paid by the asbestos industry in very large sums to lie about the dangers of asbestos exposure to protect their profitable industry.
England and the United States later published their own findings about the link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, muddying the waters for the next several decades until the dangers became widely accepted as truth.
Once mesothelioma was identified, doctors and medical researchers began working on a cure. The government began establishing preventative regulations for industries working with asbestos mining and manufacturing.
There are several treatments for mesothelioma currently, though no known cures exist at this time.
Currently, surgical treatment is the most effective form of treatment for mesothelioma. Surgical treatment began in the 1940s and involves both pneumonectomy and pleurectomy. Both of these surgeries involve the full or partial removal of the affected lining of the respective organ.
Another form of treatment for mesothelioma is chemotherapy. There are currently two main chemotherapy drugs that are being used to treat mesothelioma. In 2003 there was a reported 40% success rate, which was double the success rate of other medications used previously in the treatment of the disease.
Radiation therapy is another acceptable treatment method for mesothelioma. Radiation was first used in the 1950s but for many decades it was thought that radiation therapy was much too dangerous to try.
With cancer in the lining around many major organs, the fear was that the radiation would do more damage to the nearby organs than to the cancer itself. As medical research expands, new techniques to limit organ exposure to radiation have been implemented in treatment, making radiation much more safe than before.
Mesothelioma is still being heavily researched and there are numerous clinical trials going on in pursuit of a cure for mesothelioma. There are currently some immunotherapy drug clinical trials but none have become approved by the FDA yet.
What Does Mesothelioma Research Look Like Today
Now that we know the cause of mesothelioma, we’re one step closer to a cure for it. There is only one facility in the world that only studies mesothelioma exclusively, the Asbestos Disease Research Institute in Sydney, Australia.
The facility opened in 2009 and has worked tirelessly ever since to develop new ways to treat mesothelioma. While this is the only facility that specifically studies mesothelioma, there are many medical institutes, research hospitals, and cancer centers all over the world that conduct research on mesothelioma as well.
There are even facilities in the U.S. that focus on mesothelioma research as well as conducting clinical trials.
The Future of Mesothelioma
While there’s no known cure for mesothelioma yet, we’ve only discovered the rare cancer and narrowed down its cause relatively recently. We’ve made huge strides in the treatment and management of the cancer, as well as in the regulation of the asbestos industry.
Managing the asbestos industry and providing protections for workers who are still exposed to the harmful mineral is a preventative measure.
Preventing future generations of people living with mesothelioma is just as important as treating the people who are currently battling mesothelioma due to an absence of knowledge of the dangers of asbestos in the past.