What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare but serious cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. It takes 20-50 years to develop and occurs in the lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen and heart.
Types of Mesothelioma
Where Does Mesothelioma Develop?
Cancer of the mesothelium in the lungs. Pleural mesothelioma accounts for 75 percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses because most asbestos fibers are inhaled.
Cancer of the mesothelium surrounding the abdomen. Peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for about 20 percent of all diagnoses.
Cancer of the mesothelium surrounding the heart. This is the rarest form of mesothelioma and often occurs in conjunction with pleural mesothelioma.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
- Effusions (Fluid)
- Weight Loss
- Shortness of Breath
- Persistent Dry Cough
- Persistent Chest Pain
- Difficulty Swallowing
- General Fatigue
- Abdominal Pain
- Weight Loss
- Nausea / Vomiting
- Bowel Irregularity
- General Fatigue
- Seizures (10 percent of patients)
- Ascites (Fluid)
- Difficulty Breathing
- Chest Pain
- General Fatigue
- Weight Loss
- Irregular Heartbeat
- Heart Murmurs
Mesothelioma Causes & Risk Factors
Mesothelioma is almost exclusively tied to prolonged asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that became very popular in the 20th century due to its heat resistance and insulating properties.
These fibers may be inhaled or ingested, and lodge themselves in the human body, which are difficult for the body to expel. In most cases, these fibers end up in the membrane (mesothelium) surrounding the lungs and chest known as the pleura.
In other cases, the fibers may be ingested and end up in the peritoneal lining in the stomach and abdomen.
Tumors often grow on top of these scar tissues, which are called pleural plaques. Tumors may also begin to grow in the abdominal region, causing malignant peritoneal mesothelioma. In some cases, asbestos fibers find their way to the pericardial lining surrounding the heart and cause pericardial mesothelioma. The causes of this type of mesothelioma are still being examined.
Since asbestos was so widely used, a large number of individuals have been exposed to this toxic substance. People such as factory workers, shipbuilders, military veterans or insulation manufacturers who worked with asbestos while removing or installing it are at risk of developing mesothelioma.
Family members of asbestos workers have inhaled asbestos fibers and dust carried into the home on work clothes and then later developed the disease. This type of circumstance is referred to as “secondary exposure.”
Finding a Mesothelioma Specialist
Selecting a Top Doctor is Critical
Selecting a mesothelioma specialist is the most important decision a patient can make. A general oncologist (cancer doctor) simply does not have the experience dealing with mesothelioma that a specialist has.
Use our free Doctor Match program to find a mesothelioma specialist near you. Treatment prescribed by a mesothelioma specialist has the capacity to significantly extend a patient’s life.
Because of the extreme rarity of mesothelioma (2,000-3,000 cases every year), mesothelioma specialists are not as common as other doctors.
Medical imaging options include X-Rays, CT scans and PET scans. A doctor usually begins with an X-Ray to determine whether there are any abnormalities or irregularity in the suspect area. Following these imaging tests, a doctor may then order a blood test to determine the existence of certain proteins released in the presence of cancer. When cancer cells are present in the body, there are numerous chemical changes and proteins released that may be measured through a blood test.
Most biopsies are major surgeries and may require a multi-day hospital stay as well as weeks of recovery. The biopsy also determines the type of cell types of the cancer, which is usually epithelioid, sarcomatoid or biphasic. All of this testing helps provide information about the cancer that gives mesothelioma specialists the best opportunity to effectively combat the disease.
The 4 Stages of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is localized to the point of origin, there is no lymph node involvement in this stage. Diagnoses at this stage are rare.
Mesothelioma remains confined to the point of origin, regional lymph nodes may be impacted. Patients at this stage still have many treatment options, including aggressive surgery.
Mesothelioma has spread beyond the point of origin, additional lymph nodes are affected. Surgery may still be an option at this stage.
Mesothelioma has spread to other organs, lymph nodes are affected, and organ failure is possible. This stage has the fewest treatment options. It is absolutely imperative to see a specialist.
Based on the current staging, specialists prescribe a treatment that seeks to remove the cancer, extend life or simply focus on limiting patient discomfort. It should also be mentioned that there are a number of current staging systems for mesothelioma, and a doctor might see different opportunities for treatment based on the system they follow. This is an important reason why patients should always consider seeking a specialized second opinion.
Though typically only available in the first two stages, surgery is the only treatment option known to significantly extend length of life.
Chemotherapy circulates medication through the bloodstream, which slows or kills additional cancer growth.
High levels of radiation targeted at the affected area may kill cancerous cells and stop the growth of new cells.
Sometimes a specialist combines a number of different treatment options to combat mesothelioma.
There are many clinical studies being conducted to evaluate and develop new treatments. These clinical trials are an additional option to consider for patients and may lead to a future cure.
Many survivors credit alternative health options as instrumental in their recovery. Examples include yoga, meditation, and acupuncture.
Ways to Improve Prognosis
1Finding a Mesothelioma Specialist – Seeing a specialist is the most important way to improve prognosis. They have experience treating mesothelioma, which general oncologists don’t have.
2Getting a Second Opinion – Always seek a second opinion before accepting a treatment plan. Second opinions may reveal more treatment options that lead to longer survival.
3Explore Treatment Options – Patients should explore all their treatment options with their doctor and decide the best plan based on their diagnosis. Every diagnosis is different and certain treatments work better for certain patients.
4Healthy Lifestyle – Patients who maintain a healthy lifestyle are more resilient to aggressive treatment and are more capable of fighting the disease.
5Clinical Trials – Participating in a clinical trial can provide access to treatment methods not offered elsewhere. Talk to your specialist about clinical trials that may improve your prognosis.
Learn more about how these steps factor into a better life expectancy and how you can take control of your prognosis in our free Mesothelioma Survivors Guide.