Mesothelioma is a rare and highly aggressive form of cancer that affects the mesothelium linings of the lungs, abdomen, heart, and in rare cases, the testicles. Because it has a long latency period, the cancer is usually diagnosed in its later stage, making it hard to cure. Treatment is often administered to alleviate pain and improve the patient’s quality of life.
Now despite asbestos being identified as the major cause of mesothelioma, the tumor is known to occur in only 10% to 20% of heavily exposed individuals. It has been identified that approximately 20% of patients with mesothelioma have no history of asbestos exposure, even after a comprehensive assessment. So what does this mean?
It means that asbestos isn’t the only factor leading to mesothelioma development. There have been speculations a number of other factors may be involved either as independent mechanisms of cancer causation or as co-carcinogens. This is why sometimes, doctors end up misdiagnosing mesothelioma as another medical condition as they may not suspect the development of the cancer in patients without asbestos exposure.
New Research sheds more Light on Non-Asbestos Mesothelioma
One 68-year-old male, a retired clerk and chronic bidi smoker was admitted to the hospital with complaints of right-sided pleuritic chest pain for one month and a painful right cervical mass. The patient had not been previously in contact with asbestos.
Upon undergoing a physical examination, the doctors discovered a single, hard, moveable, and tender right-sided cervical lymph node. An examination of his respiratory system revealed absent breath sounds and stony dull note in the right infraaxillary and infrascapular regions.
Further examination of his chest revealed the patient had pleural effusions which showed malignant mesothelial cells.
In another study conducted by scientists at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, it was discovered that only 50% of peritoneal mesothelioma cases are known to be caused by asbestos exposure. So what about the other 50%? What might have caused mesothelioma in other 50% of the peritoneal mesothelioma cases?
The scientists discovered that although the patient seemed healthy following a physical and gynecological examination, she had some abnormal epithelial cells in the mesothelium (tissue lining). There was absolutely no reason to suspect mesothelioma as she didn’t experience prior asbestos exposure and was as a result diagnosed with ovarian-cancer due to the location of the cancerous cells.
When the doctors finally discovered that the woman indeed had a mesothelioma tumor, she was put under chemotherapy treatment where most of the cancerous cells were eradicated.
Possible Non-Asbestos Mesothelioma Causes
Erionite, a non-asbestos fiber was identified as a possible cause of mesothelioma in 3 Cappadocian villages which showed high rates of mesothelioma especially within certain families. This discovery suggested a genetic predisposition despite the same type of this mineral being found in these villages, with or without mesothelioma cases.
Carbon nanotubes, man-made fibers have also been found to potential increase the risk of developing mesothelioma from exposure. More studies are underway to verify this.
The carcinogenic potential of the monkey polyomavirus, also known as the simian virus 40 or SV40, was also suspected to cause mesothelioma. There is also evidence linking therapeutic radiation to the development of mesothelioma.
Because it appears that asbestos isn’t the only cause of mesothelioma, more research is needed to uncover other potential factors influencing the development of this form of cancer. This will also help prevent possible future misdiagnosis.