Learn more about this debilitating condition and how to cope with it…
In the United States, from 2,400 to 2,800 people are annually diagnosed with some form of mesothelioma. What is mesothelioma? It is a type of cancer that typically appears in the lining of the lungs and the chest wall. It can also develop in the abdomen on the sac that surrounds the heart or testicles. As the name suggests, it develops in the mesothelium cells. The mesothelium is the thin membrane that covers many of the inner organs.
Thus, there are different types of mesothelioma depending on the location where it develops. In most cases, it develops in one of these 3 areas:
- Lungs – Pleural Mesothelioma: This is the most common type, which occurs when asbestos fibers get inhaled.
- Abdomen – Peritoneal Mesothelioma. It develops when asbestos fibers get swallowed or inhaled. This way they become trapped in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdomen).
- Heart – Pericardial Mesothelioma: It occurs when asbestos fibers get lodged in the lining that surrounds the heart cavity called the pericardium.
The vast majority of mesothelioma cases are associated with asbestos exposure. People with this cancer have been exposed or worked with asbestos at their workplace. Those are people who make or work with asbestos products or mine asbestos. Mesothelioma also affects those living with asbestos workers. Those who work in facilities that contain asbestos also belong to a risk group. Other factors that can lead to mesothelioma include infection with SV40 and genetics. They are much rarer, though.
Many years after asbestos exposure, the cancerous cells start growing. Thereby they start destroying nearby tissues. This aggressive cancer can also metastasize after a while and expand on other body parts. Mesothelioma is an insidious disease. The symptoms come on slowly in most patients. They can appear 20–50 years after exposure to asbestos. The symptoms include chest wall pain, shortness of breath, and a swollen abdomen. A persistent cough, sudden weight loss, and feeling tired could also be the signs of this cancer. Some patients experience nausea (inclination to vomit), anemia, and effusion in the abdomen or lungs.
Patients with mesothelioma have a poor life expectancy since there’s no cure for them. A patient’s survival mostly depends on the location of the tumor and cell type. The patient’s age and overall health are important as well. Another important factor is the stage of the disease. That’s why it’s often critical to diagnose cancer in the initial phase. The disease can be diagnosed by means of CT scan or chest X-ray. It can be confirmed by a tissue biopsy or through the liquid produced by cancer. Yet, it’s hard to diagnose mesothelioma. That’s because the symptoms may seem like those that occur in other diseases. This often leads to misdiagnosis. The doctors perform various tests to exclude other diseases for that reason. It may take a few weeks or even several months to set the accurate diagnosis.
Once the doctors diagnose mesothelioma, it will be categorized into one of 4 stages. Treatments for Stage 1 and 2 typically include chemotherapy and surgery. The 3rd and 4th stage often requires a palliative treatment. Sometimes, a treatment is used palliatively to alleviate a patient’s discomfort and pain. Newer treatments give hope to patients who don’t respond well to conventional therapies. Those treatments are still part of clinical trials, but hope dies last.