Mesothelioma is considered an occupational disease as many of the people diagnosed often worked in industrial environments such as shipyards, the automotive industry, and construction. Malignant mesothelioma is caused by exposure to a naturally occurring element called asbestos. This mineral was once revered for its ability to withstand extreme temperatures, as well as its strength and insulating properties. It soon became apparent that the small fibers that make up asbestos acted as a human carcinogen, easily lodging themselves in bodily tissues resulting in scarring and malignancies.
The typical demographic of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma are Caucasian males over the age of 65 who have worked in the aforementioned industries, it is also prevalent among United States veterans. While these are the typical statistics concerning patients, mesothelioma is also commonly diagnosed in women, across numerous countries, and although rare, in younger adults and children.
Cases of Note
There are several notable cases of famous people who have also been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Their exposure to asbestos is varied, but even incidental or short-term exposure to asbestos can prove fatal. Women diagnosed with mesothelioma usually encountered the dangerous fibers on the work clothes and hair of family members working around it. Recently, more women have been exposed due to their involvement in home improvement projects of older homes and buildings.
Most recently Pro Football Hall of Famer, Merlin Olsen died in March 2010 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009. Just one month after Olsen died Malcolm McLaren, former manager of the Sex Pistols, died in April 2010 after being diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in October 2009. Other prominent mesothelioma patients include:
- Hamilton Jordan, Chief of Staff for U.S. President Jimmy Carter
- Steve McQueen, actor, avid driving driver and fan
- Paul Gleason, television and film actor
- Micheal G. Coney, British science fiction writer
- Paul Rudolph, American architect
- Christie Hennessy, Irish singer-songwriter
- Peter Leonard, Australian journalist
- Terrence McCann, Olympic gold medalist Bruce Vento, United States Congressman
Beating Survival Rates
Although not famous prior to their diagnosis, Stephen Jay Gould and Paul Kraus were both diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, a form of the cancer that affects the lining of the abdomen. Gould wrote the essay, “The Median isn’t the Message,” in which he argued against patients’ dependence on statistical information. He outlived his prognosis for 20 years, eventually dying due to metastatic adenocarcinoma pf the lung, not mesothelioma. Kraus was given a prognosis of less than a year, but instead, focused on lifestyle changes and investigating complementary and alternative treatment methods. Kraus wrote a book discussing his experiences titled Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers: A Patient’s Guide.