What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a serious malignant tumor that affects the torso of the human body. There is a strong link between mesothelioma and contact with asbestos particles via breathing or swallowing.
There are three common forms of mesothelioma:
1. Pleural Mesothelioma is the most common form of Mesothelioma. It starts in the chest cavity (after breathing the particles) before spreading to other areas.
2. Peritoneal Mesothelioma starts in the abdomen (after swallowing the particles) and accounts for about 10-20% of Mesothelioma patients.
3. Pericardial Mesothelioma is the rarest form of Mesothelioma. It starts in the cavity that surrounds the heart.
Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose early on because the symptoms are often mistaken for those of other, less serious ailments. To make matters worse, it often takes many years for the symptoms to show up after the contact with asbestos takes place. Individuals with a history of extended asbestos exposure are at the highest risk for developing malignant mesothelioma. Even a small exposure to this cancer-causing material can result in malignant mesothelioma. However, mesothelioma has a latency of up to thirty-forty years, and many individuals previously exposed to asbestos are now displaying symptoms. This means the average age of mesothelioma patients is between 50 and 70 years. Men are typically affected more, because of the common presence of asbestos in industrial settings. There are three major types of malignant mesothelioma. Epithelial, sarcomatoid, and mixed. Epithelial mesothelioma is most common. Symptoms may include, but are not limited to respiratory distress, a lasting cough, and pneumonia. In addition, symptoms are often mistaken for less serious ailments, and many patients do not show any signs at all.
Individuals with pleural mesothelioma may amass some fluid between the lung lining and chest cavity. This can be detected through a chest x-ray, as well as CT scans.
Diagnosis of Mesothelioma is based on a biopsy. This exam will test a tissue sample for the presence of malignant and/or pleural mesothelioma.
Causes of Mesothelioma
Asbestos is the principal cause of Mesothelioma. Asbestos is a type of insulation material, which was commonly utilized in the past in the following industries:
Other manufacturing industries
Mesothelioma appears most often in people who worked in the above industries and were exposed to asbestos in their workplace. The utilization of asbestos was very prevalent after 1940’s. However it would take 10-40 years after the first exposure for the first symptoms of mesothelioma to become noticeable, which made it very difficult to diagnose. The peak in mesothelioma cases is projected to be reached near year 2010 according to studies. There are three frequently used types of asbestos: white, brown, and blue. Brown and blue asbestos are more frequently associated with mesothelioma. These types of asbestos have been restricted by most countries in the 1990s. A record of asbestos exposure at work is reported in about 70 percent to 80 percent of all cases.
Asbestos is a very dangerous material and can cause serious damage to your health. It is made up of very minute fibers, which can find their way to pleura (outside lining of the lung) and damage the cells pleura are made of. These fibers can also be passed on to clothing, which makes them dangerous not only to the person exposed to asbestos, but to their family members as well.
Smoking does not appear to increase the risk of mesothelioma. However, the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure drastically increases a person’s risk of developing cancer of the air passageways in the lung.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Symptoms of mesothelioma may not materialize until 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. Shortness of breath and pain in the chest due to an accumulation of fluid in the pleura are often symptoms of pleural mesothelioma. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include weight loss and abdominal pain and swelling because of a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. Other symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma may include bowel obstruction, blood clotting abnormalities, anemia, and fever. If the cancer has spread beyond the mesothelium to other parts of the body, symptoms may include pain, difficulty swallowing, or swelling of the neck or face. These symptoms may be caused by mesothelioma or by other, less serious conditions. It is important to see a doctor about any of these symptoms. Only a doctor can make a diagnosis. Once Mesothelioma is diagnosed, the likelihood of recovery varies according to several factors, including the size and location of the tumor, how much it has spread, and the age of the patient.
In general, the earlier that Mesothelioma is diagnosed, the greater the likelihood of survival. If you feel that you have experienced any of the typical Mesothelioma symptoms, pay a visit to your doctor for professional advice.
Diagnosing mesothelioma is often complicated, because the symptoms are similar to those of several other conditions. Diagnosis begins with an assessment of the patient’s medical history, as well as any history of asbestos exposure. A physical examination may be performed, including x-rays of the chest or abdomen and lung function tests. A CT (or CAT) scan or an MRI may also be useful. A CT scan is a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. In an MRI, a powerful magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures are viewed on a monitor and can also be printed.
A biopsy is needed to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma. In a biopsy, a surgeon or a medical oncologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer) removes a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. A biopsy may be done in different ways, depending on where the abnormal area is found. If the cancer is in the chest, the doctor may perform a thoracoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor makes a small cut through the chest wall and puts a thin, lit tube called a thoracoscope into the chest between two ribs. Thoracoscopy allows the doctor to look inside the chest and obtain tissue samples. If the cancer is in the abdomen, the doctor may perform a peritoneoscopy. To obtain tissue for examination, the doctor makes a small opening in the abdomen and inserts a special instrument called a peritoneoscope into the abdominal cavity. If these procedures do not yield enough tissue, more extensive diagnostic surgery may be necessary.
If the diagnosis is mesothelioma, the doctor will want to learn the stage and extent of the disease. Staging involves more tests in a precise effort to find out whether the cancer has proliferated and, if so, to which parts of the body. Knowing the stage of the disease helps the doctor plan treatment. Mesothelioma is described as localized if the cancer is found only on the membrane surface where it originated. It is classified as advanced if it has extended beyond the original membrane surface to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, chest wall, or abdominal organs.
Treatment for mesothelioma depends on the location of the cancer, the stage of the disease, and the patient’s age and general well being. Typical treatment options consist of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Sometimes, these treatments are combined.
Surgery is a frequent treatment for mesothelioma. The doctor may remove part of the lining of the chest or abdomen and some of the tissue around it. For cancer of the pleura (pleural mesothelioma), a lung may be removed in an operation called a pneumonectomy. Sometimes part of the diaphragm, the muscle below the lungs that helps with breathing, is also removed.
Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy affects the cancer cells only in the treated area. The radiation may come from a machine (external radiation) or from moving materials that produce radiation through thin plastic tubes into the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy).
Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Most drugs used to treat mesothelioma are given by injection into a vein (intravenous, or IV). Doctors are also studying the effectiveness of applying chemotherapy directly into the chest or abdomen (intracavitary chemotherapy).
To ease symptoms and control discomfort, the doctor may use a needle or a thin tube to drain fluid that has accumulated in the chest or abdomen. The procedure for removing fluid from the chest is called thoracentesis. Removal of fluid from the abdomen is called paracentesis. Drugs may be administered through a tube in the chest to prevent more fluid from accumulating. Radiation therapy and surgery may also be beneficial in alleviating symptoms.
Note of Urgency
Mesothelioma is a life-threatening disease and cannot be left untreated. The sooner it is diagnosed the better a patient’s chances are of fighting this deadly cancer. Please contact a qualified doctor immediately if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Read more Facts about Mesothelioma. Alan Hood is a contributing writer at Houston Medical Center
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