There are approximately 3000 new Mesothelioma cases diagnosed in the United States yearly. The disease seems to affect men more than women. The disease isn't sex specific, and the predominant male infection rate is directly linked to their greater numbers in the workforce thirty to forty years ago. 

Asbestos, a silicate, was used mainly as an insulation material for buildings, tiles, in ships, for plumbing and factories in the early 20th century. It causes the majority of all Mesotheliomas. The danger of asbestos lies in its removal. Small particles or fibers go into the air and get inhaled. The fibers can get lodged in the throat, trachea and bronchi. The thinner particles can reach the lung and chest cavity and once lodged, effect the mesothelial cells. 

These cells line the major organs and form the outer lining of the serous cavities of the body.
The asbestos starts causing minute cellular changes in the mesothelium that are followed by small cancer and tumor growth. In advanced stages it's thought that the cancer cells travel by the lymphatic system to other organ systems in the body. 

The most common site for mesothelioma is in the pleaural cavity and lungs. It can also occur in other areas such as the stomach and throat. The chances of acquiring this disease is directly linked to the time and amount of asbestos exposure. In addition, smokers with asbestos exposure, double their risk for acquiring Mesothelioma versus nonsmokers.
When symptoms do appear the patient usually complains of wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, pain in the chest and fluid in the lungs.
As the cancer progresses abdominal masses, abdominal pain, weight loss and irregularities with bowel function are a few of the symptoms that can occur. Diagnosis is first made by taking an extensive medical history and, assessing asbestos exposure. This, in turn, is followed with a chest Xray, MRI or Cat Scan. 

If Mesothelioma is suspected, then a biopsy needs to be done to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment success, as with all cancers, relies on an early diagnosis. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, symptoms start occurring when the cancer has already reached a more advanced stage. Classification of Mesothelioma is similar to other cancers, with 4 stages. Stage 1, which is early, tends to be the most successfully treated. 

Stages 2,3,and 4 are much more difficult to deal with. Traditional treatments being used by oncologists today are a combination of surgery, radiation treatment and chemotherapy. Some other experimental treatment options include drug therapy, gene therapy, immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy.

Recently, however, the mechanism by which asbestos causes cancer has been discovered.
Scientists now know that once the asbestos comes in contact with the mesothelium, it causes the release of an enzyme called TNF-alpha, which starts biochemical changes within the cells. These changes lead to the formation of a protein, which actually protects the cancer cell against death. As these cells multiply, more damaged cells form, eventually causing cancer. As a result of this knowledge a new drug, developed by Alfacell, is currently in clinical trials. 

The drug Onconase works by stopping the damaged cells from replicating. This slows the cancer growth and helps to shrink the tumors. Tests so far appear to be quite promising. It's hoped that it will help those in the advanced stages of Mesothelioma to survive longer and that it could possibly reverse the cancer in Stage 1 patients.

Hopefully, now with this added knowledge, more drugs will be developed and tested, leading to an eventual cure of this devastating disease.