Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that affects the lining of the chest or abdominal cavities. It is most often attributed to exposure to airborne asbestos particles and occurs in both men and women.
Asbestos fibers are naturally occurring fibrous minerals that were commonly used in construction and thermal insulation as a fire retardant until the 1970s. Before the dangers of asbestos became known, workers in the industries that made or used the mineral were often exposed to microscopic asbestos fibers in the air they breathed. The fibers became embedded in the tissue of the lungs and mesothelium, eventually leading to the development of mesothelioma or pleural disease.
Mesothelioma can develop many years after the last exposure to asbestos, and its symptoms are much like those of other common, less deadly diseases. Because of this, mesothelioma is often diagnosed late in its course.