Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that develops on the protective lining around the lungs, abdomen, and heart. It is caused by exposure to asbestos and can take 20-50 years to develop.
Types of Mesothelioma
Doctors determine the type of mesothelioma based upon the location in the body where tumors develop.
Where Does Mesothelioma Develop?
- Cancer of the mesothelium covering the lungs and chest
- Caused by inhaling asbestos fibers
- Accounts for 75 percent of all diagnoses
- Cancer of the mesothelium surrounding the abdomen
- Caused by ingesting asbestos fibers
- Accounts for about 20 percent of all diagnoses
- Cancer of the mesothelium covering the heart
- Not usually diagnosed while the patient is still alive
- Accounts for less than 4% of all diagnoses
Testicular mesothelioma is extremely rare and occurs in less than 1 percent of cases.
Men comprise 81% of pleural cases and 56% of peritoneal cases.
What are the Causes and Risk Factors?
Malignant mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Sharp asbestos fibers cause mesothelial cells to mutate and become cancerous when inhaled or ingested. It takes around 20-50 years after exposure to asbestos for mesothelioma to develop.
The most common products that contain asbestos include:
- Cement board/wall and ceiling tiles
- Pipe Insulation
- Joint compounds
- Textiles and protective clothing (for heat resistance)
- Car brake pads/clutches
Since asbestos was widely used in industrial and commercial products, a large number of individuals have been exposed to this toxic substance in the workplace.
Asbestos was extensively used in every branch of the military due to its insulating and fire retardant properties. Veterans who worked as boilerman, pipefitters, mechanics and welders had the highest risk of exposure.
Family members can inhale asbestos fibers and dust carried into the home on work clothes. This is referred to as "secondary" or "take home" exposure.
What are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?
Early symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to more common diseases such as pneumonia, the flu, or irritable bowel syndrome. Due to the long latency period associated with this cancer, symptoms don’t usually appear until tumors have progressed. Symptoms vary based on the type of mesothelioma diagnosed.
Symptoms to Expect
have fluid buildup
have shortness of breath
have chest pain
Other Common Symptoms
Dry cough, Weight loss, Difficulty swallowing, General fatigue
Symptoms to Expect
have abdominal fluid buildup
have weight loss
have loss of appetite
Other Common Symptoms
Abdominal pain, Bowel irregularity, General fatigue, Seizures (10% of patients)
Symptoms to Expect
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- General fatigue
- Weight loss
Many patients are diagnosed with mesothelioma after exhibiting a persistent cough, pneumonia-like symptoms, or fluid buildup. Because this type of cancer has a long latency period, its symptoms often appear without warning.
When a patient exhibits persistent symptoms, a doctor will suggest a series of tests. These tests will determine the type and stage of the cancer.
Diagnostic testing includes:
- CT Scan
- Cytology (Fluid biopsy)
- Tissue Biopsy
- PET Scan
Average Age at Diagnosis
Mesothelioma Cell Types
Mesothelioma cancer can be made up of 3 different cell variations, each with their own effects on a patient’s prognosis:
50%-70% of cases
- Early stage life expectancy of 27 months
- Clearly defined regions of growth, cells clump together
- Most responsive to treatment options
10%-15% of cases
- Early stage life expectancy of 18 months
- Elongated structure, cells sometimes have multiple nuclei
- Metastasize faster than other cell types
The 4 Stages of Mesothelioma
Staging determines cancer's severity and also indicates which treatment options are available. Cancer 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.
Based on the stage of the patient's disease, specialists either prescribe treatments to remove the cancer, offer chemotherapy to extend life expectancy, or simply focus on limiting patient discomfort.
- Cancer is localized to the point of origin
- There is no lymph node involvement
- Surgery is the most common form of treatment
- Cancer remains confined to the point of origin
- Regional lymph nodes may be affected
- Patients at this stage have many treatment options, including aggressive surgery
- Cancer has spread beyond the point of origin
- Additional lymph nodes are affected
- Surgery may still be an option
About 40% of mesothelioma patients have a one-year prognosis. A patient’s prognosis is often based on stage, cell type, and their overall health. Women and younger patients have a better life expectancy than older men.
There are several steps patients can take to improve their prognosis.
Steps to Improve Your Prognosis
Seeing a specialist is the most important way to improve your prognosis. Surgeons and oncologists who specialize in treating mesothelioma are vital components of your treatment plan and prognosis.
Patients should explore all available treatment options. This includes treatments such as immunotherapy, clinical trials, and multimodal treatment regimens that involve a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Live a Healthy Lifestyle
A nutrient-rich diet and active lifestyle play a significant role in how patients feel before, during, and after treatment.
Researchers estimate the one-year survival rate for mesothelioma to be about 40%. However, survival is impacted by many factors including treatments, cell type, overall health, and metastasis.
Selecting a Top Doctor is Critical
Selecting a mesothelioma specialist is one of the most important decisions a patient can make. General oncologists do not have much experience in treating mesothelioma because only 3,000 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
A specialist can:
- give patients a more accurate diagnosis
- expand treatment options
- improve their prognosis
Treatment prescribed by a 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.
Find Your Doctor
Top Pleural Specialists:
- Dr. Abraham 'Avi' Lebenthal
- Dr. Raja Flores
- Dr. Robert Cameron
- Dr. Joseph Friedberg
- Dr. Jacques Fontaine
Top Peritoneal Specialists:
Top Cancer Centers
- Brigham & Women's Hospital
- Mount Sinai Cancer Treatment Center
- UCLA Medical Center
- MedStar Washington Hospital
- University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
- Wake Forest Baptist Health
- University of Chicago Cancer Center
- The Mayo Clinic
- H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center
- M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
What Others Are Saying About Us
“My wife and I so appreciate how Jenna was able to make us not feel lost and alone. She thoroughly understood our situation, verified that we were taking the right steps, explained other steps to take, provided recommendations for specialists, and explained many services that the Mesothelioma Guide can provide. She helped put our minds at ease”
Your Cancer Treatment Options
Mesothelioma treatment isn't one size fits all. Specialists choose from a variety of cancer treatment options depending on the location of the disease, 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.
Surgery is the only treatment option known to significantly extend life and virtually every mesothelioma patient who has lived more than five years has had surgery.
The first-line chemotherapy drugs approved by the FDA to treat mesothelioma are Alimta and Cisplatin, often used together and in conjunction with surgery as a multimodal approach to improve a patient’s prognosis.
Radiation treatment is often used to slow the growth and progression of mesothelioma in conjunction with other methods like surgery and chemotherapy. It is also used to reduce pain with tumor growth..
Specialists will use a combination of different treatment methods to improve a patient’s prognosis. Radiation and chemotherapy are often used before, during, or after surgery to help reduce the chance of a recurrence and improve a patient’s overall survival.
Clinical trials are an additional option to consider for patients who have exhausted other treatments. Immunotherapy drugs are currently being offered in clinical trials.
Some survivors credit alternative health options as instrumental in their recovery and reduction of side effects. 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 patients discuss their treatment options, offers ways to receive novel treatments that may still be in clinical trials, and finds doctors who are open to multimodal surgical options.
Compensation and Benefits
Financial Assistance for Mesothelioma Patients and their Families
Can I file a lawsuit?
Yes. Mesothelioma patients or their family members can sue the asbestos manufacturing companies that are responsible for their exposures as long as the time limit to file has not expired.
What are Asbestos Trust Funds?
When it became known asbestos causes cancer, people began to sue the companies that exposed them. After a flood of lawsuits, some companies filed for bankruptcy. These companies were forced by bankruptcy judges to set aside funds for future asbestos victims.
Veterans Compensation and Benefits
Are You a Veteran? Get VA Claims Help
Most veterans with mesothelioma are eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Two financial benefits available to veterans are Disability Compensation for veterans primarily exposed in the military, while Pension is for non-service related mesothelioma cases. Family members and dependents can also receive financial assistance.
In addition, the VA has contracted with two world-renowned thoracic surgeons who provide specialized mesothelioma treatment to any veteran enrolled in the VA Health Care system.
What Others Are Saying About Us
“In my mail today I received a letter from the VA with their decision about my DIC claim. I looked at the balance in my bank account and found that I have already received the payment for the first four months of back pay, plus the regular August 1 payment for July. I am blown away by this and cannot thank you enough, Carl, for all your help in filing this claim. Thank you.”