What is Mesothelioma?
Definition: Malignant mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the protective lining around important organs, such as the lungs. It is caused by asbestos and takes 20-50 years to develop after exposure.
Types of Malignant Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma cancer occurs in a protective lining called the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a thin membrane that protects and lubricates several important organs and body cavities. When people are exposed to asbestos, the sharp fibers can become lodged in the mesothelium and eventually cause cells to become cancerous.
Where Does Mesothelioma Develop?
Cancer of the mesothelium in the lungs and chest is known as pleural mesothelioma. It accounts for 3 out of 4 mesothelioma diagnoses because most asbestos fibers are inhaled, lodging into the linings of the lungs.Learn More
Cancer of the mesothelium surrounding the abdomen is known as peritoneal mesothelioma. It is created by ingesting asbestos fibers and accounts for about 20 percent of all diagnoses.Learn More
Mesothelioma can also develop in the lining of the testicles. Testicular mesothelioma is extremely rare and occurs in less than 1 percent of mesothelioma cases.
Free Mesothelioma Guide
Get the complete guide to fight mesothelioma.Learn More
A prognosis is a doctor's prediction of how a disease will progress. Prognosis includes life expectancy and survival rates. There are several steps patients can take to improve their prognosis.
how a patient will be affected by it in the future.
Ways to Improve Prognosis
Find a Mesothelioma Specialist
Seeing a specialist is the most important way to improve prognosis. Specialists have experience treating mesothelioma that general oncologists don't have.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Patients who maintain a healthy lifestyle are more resilient to aggressive treatment and are more capable of fighting the disease.
Get 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.
Enroll in Clinical Trials
Participating in a clinical trial can provide access to treatment methods not offered elsewhere.
Explore 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.
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.
More About Prognosis
Read About Mesothelioma Survivors
Get our free survivors guide with inspiring stories of overcoming mesothelioma.Learn More
In our free survivors guide, you’ll learn:
- How survivors of 10+ years outlived their prognosis
- Top treatments that survivors swear by
- Ways to improve your prognosis and quality of life
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Pleural mesothelioma causes few symptoms in early stages. Early symptoms are similar to other more common diseases, such as pneumonia, asthma, and the flu. Misdiagnoses are common because symptoms are not unique. Late stage symptoms can be more specific to pleural mesothelioma.
Symptoms to Expect
- 90% have lung fluid buildup
- 79% have shortness of breath
- 64% have chest pain
Other Common Symptoms
- Dry cough
- Weight loss
- Difficulty swallowing
- General fatigue
Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the adbomen. Many of the symptoms affect the abdominal organs. Peritoneal mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms can be similar to common health problems. It is sometimes misdiagnosed as a hernia or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Symptoms to Expect
- 77% have abdominal fluid buildup
- 60% have weight loss
- 60% have loss of appetite
Other Common Symptoms
- Abdominal pain
- Bowel irregularity
- General fatigue
- Seizures (10 percent of patients)
Pericardial mesothelioma is extremely rare and is often not diagnosed from its symptoms. The symptoms usually affect the heart and chest. These symptoms are not specific to pericardial mesothelioma and can cause misdiagnosis. Pericarditis (inflammation of the pericardium) and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) are common.
Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms mimic a number of other diseases. Only a health professional can perform the tests necessary to diagnose a patient.
See your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Weight loss
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Heart murmurs
- General fatigue
Many patients are diagnosed with mesothelioma after exhibiting a persistent cough or pneumonia-like symptoms. Because mesothelioma takes decades to develop, its symptoms often appear without warning. When a patient has persistent symptoms, a doctor will suggest imaging tests to look for any abnormalities or signs of cancer.
Mesothelioma Diagnostic Options
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 irregularities in the patient.
Following imaging tests, a doctor may order a blood test for further evidence of the presence of mesothelioma. There are numerous proteins released that may be measured through a blood test.
To confirm a diagnosis, the doctor orders a surgical biopsy and carefully removes part of the tumor tissue. The biopsy determines cell type of the cancer, which can be epithelioid, sarcomatoid or biphasic.
All of this testing provides mesothelioma specialists with the information they need to treat the cancer effectively.
Find Your Doctor
Patients should seek out doctors with experience and training in treating mesothelioma. Specialists have more knowledge about this rare cancer than a general oncologist. Top doctors can be found around the United States.
Top Cancer Centers
Certain cancer centers have a staff who are more experienced in treating mesothelioma. Several hospitals have their own dedicated mesothelioma program. Some of the best cancer centers are esteemed for their mesothelioma research and offer access to important clinical trials.
Mesothelioma Cancer Treatments
Mesothelioma treatment isn't one size fits all. Specialists choose from a variety of cancer treatment options depending on the location of the mesothelioma, the cell type, and the personal medical history of the patient. For the best treatment, find a cancer center with experience in mesothelioma treatment and research.
Though typically only available in the first two stages, surgery is the only treatment option known to significantly extend 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.
A specialist combines a number of different treatment options that work together, such as surgery and chemotherapy.
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.
Alternative Treatment - Some survivors credit alternative health options as instrumental in their recovery. Examples include yoga, meditation, and acupuncture.
Questions About Your Treatment Plan?
Jenna Campagna, RN explains how she assists patients.
Jenna Campagna is a registered nurse and a mesothelioma patient advocate. She helps mesothelioma patients navigate their treatment options and find the right doctors.
Finding a Mesothelioma Specialist
Selecting a Top Doctor is Critical
Selecting a mesothelioma specialist is one of the most important decisions a patient can make. Specialists are doctors who are experienced and knowledgeable about treating a specific disease. General oncologists do not have much experience in treating mesothelioma because only 2,000 to 3,000 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
A specialist can give patients a more accurate diagnosis which can expand treatment options and improve their prognosis. Treatment prescribed by a mesothelioma specialist can significantly extend a patient's life. Not every specialist treats every type of mesothelioma. Depending on the stage, type, location, severity and more, certain specialists are a better fit than others.Use Our Free Doctor Match Program
The 4 Stages of Mesothelioma
Once doctors have a definitive diagnosis of mesothelioma, they try to determine the current stage of the disease. Staging determines the cancer's severity and also indicates which treatment options are available. Mesothelioma stages assign a number between 1 and 4 to the disease, with stage 1 being the least severe and stage 4 being the most progressed.
See How Mesothelioma Progresses by Stage
(Click the bubbles to view different stages)
Stage 1 Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is localized to the point of origin. There is no lymph node involvement in this stage. Diagnoses at this stage are rare.
Stage 2 Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma remains confined to the point of origin. Regional lymph nodes may be affected. Patients at this stage still have many treatment options, including aggressive surgery.
Stage 3 Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma has spread beyond the point of origin. Additional lymph nodes are affected. Surgery may still be an option at this stage.
Stage 4 Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma has spread to other organs and lymph nodes. Organ failure is possible at this stage. This stage has the fewest treatment options, so it is absolutely imperative to see a specialist.
Based on the stage of the patient's disease, specialists either prescribe treatments to remove the cancer and extend life or simply focus on limiting patient discomfort. There are several 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 getting a specialized second opinion.
Mesothelioma Causes and Risk Factors
Malignant mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally occuring mineral that became very popular in the 20th century due to its heat resistance and insulating properties. Asbestos has been used in a variety of products from building materials to car parts.
Asbestos fibers are sharp and difficult for the body to expel. When the fibers are inhaled or ingested they can lodge themselves in the mesothelial linings of the lungs, abdomen, or other organs. Over an extended time, these fibers can irritate and damage the mesothelial cells. This damage causes otherwise healthy cells to become abnormal and replicate constantly, leading to tumor growth and eventually mesothelioma.
Since asbestos was widely used in industrial and commercial products, a large number of individuals have been exposed to this toxic substance. People such as factory workers, shipbuilders, military veterans, construction workers, or installation manufacturers who worked with asbestos while removing or installing it are at risk of developing mesothelioma.
Family members of those who worked with asbestos are also at risk of developing mesothelioma. Asbestos fibers and dust carried into the home on work clothes could have been inhaled by family members. This is referred to as "secondary exposure."
3 Ways to Pay for Treatment
Many companies knew that asbestos was dangerous and didn't make an effort to protect their workers. They exposed their employees to asbestos without proper protective gear. Mesothelioma patients or their family members can hire a lawyer to sue the companies that are responsible for their asbestos exposure.
Asbestos Trust Funds
When it became common knowledge that asbestos causes mesothelioma, many people began to sue the companies that exposed them. After a flood of lawsuits, some companies decided to go bankrupt. These companies set up trust funds to set aside money for future asbestos victims.
Veterans are entitled to many benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA offers medical benefits for mesothelioma patients. Veterans can apply for disability compensation or in some cases a pension. Family members and dependents of veterans can also receive benefits.