Pathophysiology: Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen. It is most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos. The most common anatomical site for mesothelioma is the pleura (the outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall), but it can also arise in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity), the pericardium (the sac that surrounds the heart), or the tunica vaginalis (a sac that surrounds the testis). Once fibers cause biological damage, the stage is set for the decades-long latency period for the development of malignant mesothelioma.
Signs & Symptoms: Mesothelioma signs may not appear until 20 to 50 years (or more) after exposure to asbestos. The most common symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are abdominal swelling and pain due to ascites (a buildup of fluid in the abdominal cavity). Other features may include weight loss, fever, night sweats, poor appetite, vomiting, constipation, and umbilical hernia. If the cancer has spread beyond the mesothelium to other parts of the body, symptoms may include pain, trouble swallowing, or swelling of the neck or face.
Statistics: A total of 3425 persons died from mesothelioma in Belgium between 1969 and 2009 according to recently published research in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. Belgium’s mesothelioma mortality rate – 18 deaths per million for males and 1.9 for females - is the fourth highest in the world, behind the United Kingdom and Australia and almost level-pegging with Italy. Male mortality from mesothelioma rose nearly tenfold in Belgium during the 40 year period, from 2.5 to 26.3 deaths per million, with a sharp upward trend in the mid-1980s.