Mesothelioma is a very uncommon form of cancer that affects the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a protective layer that covers many internal organs of the body including the stomach, heart and lungs.

There are three main types of mesothelioma and the categorization is based on the affected area.

Mesothelioma Types

Pleural Mesothelioma

lungsThis type of mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs. It is the most common type accounting for about 75% of all cases. This has been attributed to the fact that asbestos fibers mostly enter the body through inhalation.

Pericardial Mesothelioma

Human Digestive SystemAccounting for 20% of all mesothelioma diagnosis, this peritoneal cancer affects the abdominal lining cavity.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

heartAccounting for 20% of all mesothelioma diagnosis, this peritoneal cancer affects the abdominal lining cavity.

Mesothelioma Stages

The development cycle of this form of cancer is generally divided into 4 stages. During the first stage it is limited to the area of origin and no lymph nodes are affected. In stage 2 it spreads to the lymph nodes but is still mostly confined. In the third stage it spreads beyond the point of origin and in stage four, the most serious point, it has affected other organs and almost all lymph nodes.

Mesothelioma Symptoms

The symptoms of this form of cancer may take between 20 and 50 years to appear and which symptoms you have may depend on the type of mesothelioma.

For the pleural form, symptoms include shortness of breath, dry cough and chest pains all brought about by fluid accumulation in the pleural cavity. Other symptoms include bloody sputum, fever, difficulty swallowing, weight loss and fatigue.

The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include abdominal pain and swelling due to peritoneal ascites (build-up of fluids). Additionally, signs such as anemia, bowel obstruction, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting may be present.

Difficulty breathing, chest pain, fever, heart murmurs and irregular heartbeats are the major signs of pericardial mesothelioma. Signs such as weight loss, fatigue, pain in affected areas are common across the three varieties and are common during later stages.

Mesothelioma Causes

Prolonged exposure to asbestos is almost always the cause. Most of the asbestos exposure cases happen at the workplace particularly in mining and building industry.

Many construction materials used in buildings, particularly those built before the banning of asbestos in the 1990s, may pose a significant risk for occupants. When asbestos is disturbed, microscopic fibers are released into the air. These can be inhaled directly by those nearby or they can attach themselves to clothes and be inhaled by people away from the site. They can also be swallowed ending up in the abdominal region, setting the stage for peritoneal mesothelioma. It is unclear how these fibers some times reach the pericardial membrane.

When these asbestos fibers enter the body, they cause cells to react in an abnormal way in an attempt to destroy or get rid of them. This eventually leads to biological changes that result in inflammation and scarring. Over a long latency period that usually lasts decades genetic changes occur which result in malignant tumors growing on top of the scar tissues.

Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Diagnosing mesothelioma can be difficult due to the resemblance of its symptoms to those of some other conditions such as lung cancer and pneumonia. Typically, the doctor will want to see the patient’s medical history and work background and perform a physical examination. When the doctor has cause to suspect mesothelioma, they will use more reliable methods.

These include:

1Imaging- this involves the use of x-rays, PTE, CT or MRI scans to obtain an image of suspected localities.

2Blood tests- If irregularities are detected using imaging, the doctor then orders a blood test that checks for the presence of certain proteins that indicate the possibility of a tumor.

3Biopsy- A biopsy is a surgery performed to get a tissue sample that is then checked for the presence of malignant cells. It also reveals the type of cancer cells present which helps to determine the necessary treatment. It may take several day or even weeks for results to arrive.

Mesothelioma Prognosis

Mesothelioma is a very aggressive form of cancer.. Mesothelioma is commonly misdiagnosed due to the resemblance of its symptoms to other diseases. This coupled with the long latency period means that cases are diagnosed at advanced stages where treatment is very difficult.

Currently, according to the American Cancer Association the average survival rate for newly diagnosed patients is between 10 to 11 months. Approximately 90% of newly diagnosed patients live for five years or less. However, there are rare cases where patients have been known to live more than 20 years. Generally younger people and women have more positive prognoses. One study showed a 5 year survival rate of 37% among patients below 45 years old, while 20% of patients aged 45 to 54 years survived 5 years. Healthier people are better able to manage the disease hence adjusting one’s lifestyle may help to improve their prognosis.

Mesothelioma Treatment

There are a number treatment options for mesothelioma.

These include:

1Surgery- this option is mainly applicable at early stages of the disease. Surgery involves either removal of the chest lining (a procedure called pleurectomy) or removal of the heart lining, diaphragm and the lung (extrapleural pneumonectomy).

2Chemotherapy- this involves the use of a combination of medication designed to kill the malignant cells, shrink tumors, prevent reoccurrence and minimize symptoms. Chemotherapy is the most effective palliative treatment but it is usually accompanied by serious side effects.

3Radiation therapy- this is usually used as a post-operation treatment to kill remaining cancer cells. It may also be applied together with chemotherapy and in some patients it has been shown to prolong life significantly. Radiation is rarely used on its own.

4Multimodal therapy combines two or more approaches and this has been shown to increase survival rates.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, let our patient advocates help you get the best care available. If you need free assistance with finding doctors, the best treatment centers, financial assistance, or more detailed mesothelioma information, contact us today. We are here to help.