Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that can take up to 50 years to develop. This is caused when an individual has been exposed to asbestos. It will form in the linings of the lungs, heart, chest and even in the abdomen.
You may not know that your body has a thin membrane that covers and even provides lubrication to different cavities within the body. This membrane is called the mesothelium. Exposure to asbestos can lead to cancer in this lining, which is known as mesothelioma.
Three Types of Mesothelioma
If the cancer has developed in the lining of the lungs then it is pleural mesothelioma. This form of mesothelioma accounts for about 75 percent of the diagnosed cases. This is because many times the asbestos fibers are inhaled and become stuck within the lining of the lungs.
When the cancer is found in the lining of the abdomen this is called peritoneal mesothelioma. This type of mesothelioma is also caused by breathing in asbestos fibers and accounts for around 20% of the diagnoses.
The rarest type of mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelium surrounding the heart – known as pericardial mesothelioma. Researchers are still trying to figure out how this form develops, most diagnoses happen after the patient has passed away.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a very difficult type of cancer to diagnose. This makes knowing the symptoms of mesothelioma challenging since they so closely mirror other common illnesses and sicknesses. However, each type of mesothelioma does have some signs and symptoms that you can look out for:
- 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
Different Causes and Risk Factors
Causes and Exposure
The cause of mesothelioma is almost always due to exposure to asbestos – a naturally occurring mineral. Throughout the 20th century, it became very popular because it was extremely resistant to heat and was great for insulating various types of materials. It was used for a number of different things ranging from brake pads in cars to the insulation used in commercial and residential buildings and homes.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled and taken into the body they can become stuck in the mesothelium – the lining that surrounds both the pleura and the peritoneum. It is difficult for your body to get rid of these fibers.
Fibers that become stuck in the pleura are what can cause pleural mesothelioma. Fibers that become stuck around the stomach or abdomen – the peritoneum – is what can lead to peritoneal mesothelioma. Although rare, fibers can also make their way to the pericardial tissue around your heart causing pericardial mesothelioma.
Are You at Risk?
There are a lot of people that may have been exposed to asbestos. This could include individuals that worked in factories, military veterans, people that made and moved insulation and even those who were involved with building ships.
Believe it or not, the family members of those individuals that may have brought these fibers home on their clothing may also be at risk. This is called secondary exposure.
If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, you will need to find a mesothelioma doctor that specializes in treating this type of cancer. Finding a normal doctor or even an oncologist is not going to be the best option. Mesothelioma is very rare and that means there isn’t as much knowledge or experience in dealing with this form of cancer. There are specialists that can provide you with much better care. These specialists are rare because there are only around 3,000 mesothelioma diagnoses each year. A specialist may be able to help improve your prognosis and even extend your life expectancy.
Keep in mind that not all specialists treat the same type of mesothelioma. The earlier you discover a diagnosis, the better chance you have of connecting to a specialist who can help.
Most individuals that have been diagnosed with this type of cancer will have symptoms that are just like pneumonia – exhibiting a lot of coughing. Symptoms can appear to come out of nowhere since the latency period for mesothelioma is between 20 – 50 years. When you have continual symptoms the doctor will often ask for tests that include medical images so that they can look for different signs that cancer may be the cause.
Some of the different tests that may be used will include X-Rays, PET Scans, and even CT Scans. Blood tests are generally carried out after these types of tests to see if there are any cancer proteins that can be found in the blood.
If the doctor believes that he or she needs to confirm that there is cancer, they may take a piece of the tumor from your body. This is called a biopsy. Keep in mind that this is generally considered to be a serious surgery and will mean that you may be in the hospital for a few days.
Conducting the biopsy helps determine the cell type of cancer. There are three main cell variations associated with mesothelioma. They are epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic. Getting these results will help the doctor identify the type of cancer that you have so that they are able to give you the best care.
Stages of Mesothelioma
After the doctor has determined that they are actually dealing with mesothelioma they will need to identify exactly what stage it is in. This will also help them identify what type of treatment will be the best for you. There are four types of mesothelioma stages. Stage 1 is the earliest and least severe and stage 4 is the most progressed.
Stage 1 – It is often difficult to reach a diagnosis at this stage. There is no involvement from lymph nodes and the cancer is localized to its point of origin.
Stage 2 – Mesothelioma is still confined to the same point of origin as it is in stage 1. There are times when there could be regional lymph nodes affected. There will be a number of different options related to treatment at this point. Surgery may still even be carried out.
Stage 3 – This is when cancer has spread beyond original point of origin and other lymph nodes are becoming affected. It is still possible for surgery to be carried out at this point, although less likely.
Stage 4 – Lymph nodes and other organs are going to be affected by cancer at this point. Organ failure is a strong possibility at this point. When cancer has reached this stage there are not going to be as many treatment options. Seeing a specialist is urgent as this stage.
The specialist is going to make recommendations about what type of treatment is needed to remove cancer based on what stage it is in. There are different ways to measure the stages and your doctor will make recommendations based on what type of system they use. You should always think about getting a second opinion from specialists.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options
What you must remember is that treatment is not going to be the same for everyone. The doctor will make recommendations based on the type of cancer cells, the stage it is in and even the history of the patient.
Surgery – When it comes to extending the amount of time you live, you will see this is the only option. It will be available if the cancer is in stages one or two.
Chemotherapy – When this medication is pushed through your bloodstream, the cancer can be killed, or the progression can be slowed.
Radiation – The cancer cells may be killed, and new cells may not grow if radiation is used on the areas that are affected.
Multimodal – Different treatment options are used together such as surgery or chemotherapy.
Clinical Trials – There are often different types of treatments that are being examined and studied. This may be an option for some patients.
Alternative Treatment Methods – Many patients are going to find relief and success through treatment options such as yoga, acupuncture and even different forms of meditation.
When you hear the term prognosis you can expect to learn about the amount of time you will live as well as survival rates. Your mesothelioma prognosis can be determined by looking at the path the specialist thinks your cancer will take and how it is going to affect you in the future.
Improving Your Prognosis
- Find a Specialist – When you find a specialist they will know how to treat this rare type of cancer.
- Second Opinions – Take the time to get a second opinion to review each and every one of your treatment options.
- Explore Treatments – Figure out what type of treatment is going to work the best for you. Not all cancer is the same and every patient is different.
- Lifestyle – If you are living a healthy lifestyle you will be better able to handle treatments that are more aggressive.
- Joining Clinical Trials – Always speak with a specialist about any clinical trials that are available. This will open the door to treatment options that you might not have available to you otherwise.