Mesothelioma is linked to asbestos exposure and is a kind of cancer that afflicts the thin outer lining or mesothelium of various organs in the body. The most common is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lungs, but it can also affect the stomach lining causing peritoneal mesothelioma, or the heart or testicles.
While there is no complete cure for mesothelioma, there are treatment options to relieve the symptoms.
What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma symptoms develop over a period of time due to prolonged exposure to asbestos, sometimes after decades.
Lung or Pleural Mesothelioma symptoms:
- Pain in the chest
- Fever and profuse sweating, especially at night
- Cough that won’t go away
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
- Swollen fingertips
Stomach or peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms:
- Stomach pain or swelling
- Feeling sick
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
When these symptoms occur, it is best to see the doctor right away and specifically let them know of any exposure to asbestos.
How asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma
Asbestos exposure is the main cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos is made up of a group of minerals composed of microscopic fibers and is used in construction. The fiber enters the lungs and gets stuck there, causing irreparable damage over time. Often it takes twenty years to diagnose mesothelioma.
Even though asbestos was banned in 1999, and the risk of exposure is lower now, materials used in asbestos continue to be present in older constructions.
Who is at risk?
Direct exposure to asbestos at work or at home, living with someone who works with asbestos and a family history of mesothelioma are all risk factors. Likely professions are mining, factories, insulation manufacturers, ship builders, construction workers, and auto mechanics.
Any suspicion of mesothelioma is followed by a series of tests including the following:
- Chest and stomach X-rays
- CT scan
- Fluid drainage from the lungs or stomach with a sample for analysis
- Thoracoscopy or laparoscopy to examine the inside of the stomach or chest with a tissue sample removed for analysis
- CT scans of the chest and abdomen
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Positron emission tomography (PET
These tests help with diagnosis and assessment of the stage or extent of the cancer and not everyone needs all these tests.
For pleural mesothelioma the following stages are identified.
- Stage I is limited to one portion of the lining of the chest.
- Stage II where it has spread beyond the lining of the chest to the diaphragm or to a lung.
- Stage III when it has spread to structures within the chest and may involve nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage IV advanced cancer that has spread more extensively within the chest and possibly to other areas of the body, such as the brain, liver and lymph nodes elsewhere in the chest.
What are the treatment options for mesothelioma
This depends on a variety of factors and the severity of the cancer, in addition to the patient’s health status. By the time diagnosis is done, mesothelioma is usually at an advanced stage. Treatment is therefore a matter of relieving symptoms and making life comfortable. Treatment options available include:
- Chemotherapy to shrink the cancer
- Readiotherapy to kill cancer cells and slow down its progress
- Surgery to remove the cancer area, usually in the early stages. It can also be to decrease fluid build up, remove tissue around lungs and abdomen and to remove as much of the cancer as possible, to remove a lung and surrounding tissue
- Painkillers to relieve pain
A number of alternative therapies help people cope with difficulty in breathing and these include:
- Breath training
- Relaxation exercises
It also helps to learn about mesothelioma so that informed decisions can be made about treatment options. A support network comprising of family and friends can be of great help.
And of course, reducing exposure to asbestos may lower risk of mesothelioma.
What is the prognosis for mesothelioma?
Since symptoms are not obvious and diagnosis is usually during an advanced stage, the outlook is poor. 50% people diagnosed with mesothelioma live up to a year after diagnosis. One in 10 people often live up to five years after diagnosis.
-Approx. 3,000 people will be diagnosed with mesothelioma in the United State annually
-Patients diagnosed with mesothelioma are usually given 10 months to live
-On average, 2,500 people die from mesothelioma in the U.S. each year
-Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma.
-It is banned in 60+ countries worldwide, but it’s still legal in the U.S. and Canada.
-Asbestos is very common in building insulation and siding, along with a list of other products.
For additional stats and facts on mesothelioma and asbestos click here.
September 26th is Mesothelioma Awareness Day (MAD) and also celebrates survivors who have been affected by it. Read the unique and inspiring story and journey of Heather, a 10-year meso survivor.
Fast facts about Heather, a mesothelioma survivor
- diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma at age 36, only 3 months after giving birth to her daughter, Lily.
- exposed to asbestos by her father’s coat that she would put on when he got home from working construction.
She focuses on inspiring hope and living in the moment. “I’ve been accused my whole life of wearing rose colored glasses…and seeing life very optimistically. I have no intention of ever taking them off.”
For more information, please visit http://www.mesothelioma.com