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Malignant mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that afflicts the mesothelium, a tissue which lines the lungs, heart, abdominal cavity and other organs within the human body. It is typically caused by exposure to fibrous carcinogens such as asbestos, and generally the risk of developing mesothelioma increases as the length of exposure time increases. Many of those diagnosed with mesothelioma are retired construction workers, factory workers, and miners whose occupations brought them into daily contact with loose asbestos fibers over a period of many years.

Is mesothelioma the same as lung cancer?

No. Although pleural mesothelioma—the type of mesothelioma which invades the linings of the lungs—can present similarly to lung cancer, it is unique in that, rather than affecting the tissues of the lungs themselves, it affects the tissue which lines and protects the lungs. However, upon metastasis, mesothelioma can and does invade other parts of the body which are distant from the original tumor (as any metastatic cancer can do). Because mesothelioma is very rare relative to other cancer types, it is often misdiagnosed as lung cancer when diagnosis is made via imaging rather than using a biopsy sample, which would easily differentiate between the two similar-but-different forms of cancer.

Does mesothelioma treatment differ from other types of cancer treatment?

Yes and no. Although treatments for mesothelioma, like treatments for other types of cancer, may involve surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and gene therapy, the aggressive nature of mesothelioma often calls for combined treatments, such as surgical tumor removal followed by radiation therapy to eradicate any remaining cancer cells. Because mesothelioma is all too often diagnosed in later stages when curative treatments may do little good, mesothelioma treatment is often only palliative, aimed at lessening the pain and discomfort caused by the cancer rather than killing cancerous tissues.

Is mesothelioma similar to any other type of cancer?

Pleural mesothelioma does share some similarities with a type of lung cancer called pulmonary adenocarcinoma. The symptoms which both cancer types present are similar: difficulty breathing, chest pressure, and fatigue are common first symptoms in both mesothelioma and pulmonary adenocarcinoma. However, although both forms of cancer affect the same type of cells (the epithelium, a type of tissue that the linings of the body organs are comprised of), mesothelioma tends to grow in the outer layer of the epithelium, while adenocarcinoma is more common in the inner layer of the epithelium. Mesothelioma is also unusually aggressive, growing and spreading at a far greater rate than adenocarcinoma.

Mesothelioma: genetically unique

Another way in which mesothelioma differs from other cancer types is in the genetic makeup of the cancer cells it is made up of: mesothelioma is genetically unique from other cancer types. A biopsy can determine what molecular structure the genes of a piece of cancer tissue has, and if signs point to malignant mesothelioma, the appropriate treatment can be taken. Advancements in genomics and genetic science yield a new hope for earlier diagnoses and fewer misdiagnoses fore malignant mesothelioma.

Is testicular mesothelioma unique from other types of testicular cancer?

Yes. Paratesticular mesothelioma is a rarity among an already-rare form of cancer. Fewer than five hundred diagnoses have been confirmed of this form of mesothelioma, which typically affects the membrane covering the testes, while other forms of testicular cancer tend to form in the testes themselves, particularly in the cells that govern the creation of sperm. Another distinct difference between paratesticular malignant mesothelioma is the rarity: other forms of testicular cancer are relatively common, while testicular mesothelioma is the rarest form of mesothelioma there is. Finally, the biggest difference of all is in the prognosis. While other types of testicular cancer are highly curable and show few incidences of recurrence, mesothelioma is very difficult to treat because of its tendency to spread and grow rapidly, invading healthy tissues sporadically rather than leaving a single telltale tumor which can be easily removed via surgery.

Latency period is unusually long with mesothelioma as compared with other cancers

The latency period or incubation period of a cancer is the time it takes from exposure to a carcinogen or other causative factor to becoming symptomatic and subsequently being diagnosed. Mesothelioma’s latency period is unusually long, often 30 to 50 years may pass between initial exposure to asbestos (or other fibrous carcinogen) and diagnosis, whereas most other forms of cancer have a latency period of under a decade, with breast cancer in particular typically presenting within 8 to 15 years of its cause (radiation exposure and exposure to DDT are thought to be common causes of breast cancer in women).

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