Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that develops in the protective lining around the lungs, abdomen, and heart. It is caused by exposure to asbestos and can take 20-50 years to develop.
Key Mesothelioma Facts
Men comprise 81% of pleural cases and 56% of peritoneal cases.
Occupations at High Risk
Navy Veterans, Shipyard Workers, Construction.
Average Age at Diagnosis
Cell type, stage, age of patient, and a patient’s overall health are factors associated with survival.
Types of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma cancer occurs in a protective lining called the mesothelium, 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
- Asbestos fibers are inhaled and become lodged in the lining of the lungs
- 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 surrounding the heart
- This is an extremely rare form of mesothelioma
- Not usually diagnosed while the patient is still alive
Testicular mesothelioma is extremely rare and occurs in less than 1 percent of cases.
What are the 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 and is often misdiagnosed. Late stage symptoms are more specific to the disease itself.
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 abdomen. Many of the symptoms affect the abdominal organs. 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% of patients)
Pericardial mesothelioma is extremely rare and is often not diagnosed from its symptoms. These symptoms are not specific to the disease. Pericarditis (inflammation of the pericardium) and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) are common misdiagnoses.
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 this type of cancer 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.
Your 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.
Cytology is the study of fluid samples under a microscope. When a patient has fluid drained from the pleural or peritoneal space, a pathologist will examine the fluid under a microscope. The presence of malignant mesothelial cells in the fluid sample indicate the presence of mesothelioma cancer.
Pathology is the study of a tissue sample under the microscope. To confirm a diagnosis, a doctor will order a needle or surgical biopsy to carefully remove part of the suspected tissue. This tissue is then stained and examined under a microscope to determine the type of cancer and cell type present. Malignant cell types of mesothelioma include epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic.
All of this testing provides specialists with the information they need to treat the cancer effectively.
Mesothelioma Cell Types
Mesothelioma cancer can be made up of 3 different cell variations, each with their own effects on a patient’s prognosis:
- Most common cell type: 50% - 70% of cases
- Clearly defined regions of growth, cells clump together
- Best prognosis and life expectancy
- Rarest of the cell types: 10% - 15% of cases
- Elongated structure, cells sometimes have multiple nuclei
- Metastasize faster than other cell types
What are the Causes and Risk Factors?
Malignant mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers are sharp and difficult for the body to expel. It is a naturally occurring mineral that became very popular in the 20th century due to its heat resistance and insulating properties. Before the Asbestos Information Act of 1988 was passed, over 5,000 products contained asbestos.
Today, asbestos is still used in a variety of products including but not limited to:
- Cement board/wall and ceiling tiles
- Pipe Insulation
- Spackling and patching 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 given their occupational proximity.
People such as:
- Factory workers
- Military veterans
- Construction workers
- Insulation/building material manufacturers
Or anyone who has worked with asbestos while removing or installing it are at serious risk of developing mesothelioma. Family members of those who worked with asbestos are also at risk of developing this cancer. Asbestos fibers and dust carried into the home on work clothes can be inhaled by family members. This is referred to as "secondary" or "take home" exposure.
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. 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.
- Cancer is localized to the point of origin
- There is no lymph node involvement
- Diagnoses at this stage are uncommon
- 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
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.
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. The prognosis estimates the path and behavior the cancer is expected to take and how a patient will be affected by it in the future.
Steps to Improve Your Prognosis
Always seek a second opinion before accepting a treatment plan. Different doctors use different diagnostic methods and their oncological techniques can vary significantly, which could have an effect on a patient’s prognosis. Second opinions may reveal previously ignored treatment options such as surgery, which can lead to significantly longer survival times.
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.
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.
Find Your Doctor
Patients should seek out doctors with experience and training in treating mesothelioma. Specialists have more knowledge about this rare cancer and are able to provide far more treatment options than general thoracic surgeons or surgical oncologists. Top doctors can be found around the United States.
Some of the top mesothelioma surgeons include:
Top Cancer Centers
Several cancer centers have their own dedicated program and are more experienced in treating mesothelioma. Some of the best cancer centers are esteemed for their mesothelioma research and offer access to important clinical trials.
Some of the top cancer centers for mesothelioma include:
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.
A specialist can:
- give patients a more accurate diagnosis
- expand treatment options
- improve their prognosis
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.
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.
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 two surgeries available to pleural mesothelioma patients are the Extrapleural Pneumonectomy (EPP) and the more favored Pleurectomy and Decortication (P/D), as well as the Cytoreductive/HIPEC procedure for those with peritoneal mesothelioma.
Traditional chemotherapy circulates medication through the bloodstream, which slows or kills additional cancer growth. 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. With newer methods of administering radiation in a more focused and precise manner like the Intensity Modulated Radiation Treatment (IMRT), radiation is almost always included in multimodal treatment plans.
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.
There are many clinical studies being conducted to evaluate and develop new treatments. These clinical trials are an additional option to consider for patients who have exhausted other treatments. Researchers are hopeful for a future cure.
Alternative Treatment - Some survivors credit alternative health options as instrumental in their recovery. Examples include yoga, meditation, and acupuncture. Though there is no empirical evidence to suggest that these methods create a significant change in a patient’s prognosis, they have proven to help reduce side effects.
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 navigate their treatment options and find doctors who are willing to administer immunotherapy treatments that are still in clinical trials as well as recommending surgeons who are open to multiple surgery options.
Compensation and Benefits
3 Ways to Pay for Treatment
Most manufacturing companies knew that asbestos was dangerous and didn't make an effort to inform the buyers of these products, or even their own workers of that fact. They allowed workers to be exposed to asbestos without proper protective gear. Mesothelioma patients or their family members can hire a lawyer to sue the asbestos manufacturing 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, many companies decided to file for bankruptcy. These companies were forced by the bankruptcy judges to set aside money for future asbestos victims and their families.
A mesothelioma settlement is a monetary sum agreed on by both the patient or patient’s family and an at-fault company to keep the case from going to trial. Most mesothelioma cases are settled out of court due to the high cost involved in having them decided by a judge. This ensures that a payout will happen quickly and provide immediate funds to the patient for exploring better treatment options.
Veterans Compensation and Benefits
Are You a Veteran? Get VA Claims Help
Veterans are entitled to many benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA is contracted with two world-renowned thoracic surgeons who provide specialized mesothelioma care. Veterans may qualify for Disability Compensation or in some cases, VA pension. Family members and dependents of veterans can also receive financial assistance.
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.”