Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that hits important organs in the body, specifically the heart, lungs, and stomach. The cells affect a thin membrane that protects these organs and are quite aggressive. In almost all of the cases, it is directly caused by exposure to asbestos.
This material was used in many buildings in the past and it was also used by other industries like the military and manufacturing. Unfortunately, exposure to asbestos decades ago can still lead to mesothelioma developing, which is why there are still around 3,000 new cases diagnosed yearly in the United States.
Asbestos was used in many materials in the past, including wall insulation. This can then break apart into tiny fibers that float in the air. The fibers get inhaled and get stuck in the mesothelium, which is the protective lining of the heart, lungs, and abdomen.
Frequent or long-term exposure to asbestos increases the risk of inhaling these fibers and developing mesothelioma. However, most patients have experienced exposure at the workplace, with 70 to 80% of patients reporting occupational exposure. Specifically, these are people who have worked as drywall installers, power and chemical plant operators, mill workers, shipbuilders, firefighters, and airplane and automobile mechanics.
Veterans are also at risk of mesothelioma due to the military’s use of asbestos against fire. This is the reason why about 30% of cases in the US are servicemen.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive disease that requires an equally aggressive treatment strategy. But like other cancers, no two cases are the same, and before treatment is planned, doctors must identify the type of mesothelioma present in a patient. More than the treatment, the symptoms of mesothelioma also vary based on the type because different organs are affected.
Pleural Mesothelioma is the most common kind, where pleura, the protective lining of the lungs, are affected. Because it comprises most of the cases out there, it also has the most options for treatment and the highest life expectancy of all types of mesothelioma. Symptoms of this kind of mesothelioma include problems with breathing, shortness of breath, persistent chest pain and cough, fatigue and weight loss, as well as fever.
Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the mesothelium of the abdominal cavity, where your intestines, kidneys, stomach, and liver are. This accounts for about 20 to 24% of cases, and symptoms include vomiting, irregular bowel movement, weight loss, fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity, abdominal pain, and hernias.
Cases of Pericardial mesothelioma are the rarest, at about only 1% of all cases. This is where the protective lining of the heart is affected and because of the rarity of this condition, there are very few treatments available. Symptoms include heart murmurs, chest pain, excessive palpitations, fatigue, labored breathing, and night sweats.
Many early symptoms of mesothelioma are nonspecific, which is why many cases diagnosed are already at an advanced stage. The most common ones like persistent cough and breathing problems can be easily mistaken for pneumonia or some other respiratory disease. Unfortunately, this means that when cases are diagnosed, treatment has to be swift because of the advanced stage.
Common treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery is most effective in the earlier stages, while the other 2 are used to remove tumors and also to relieve any discomfort due to the tumors in the body.
Doctors find that a combination of the various treatments is more successful and can extend the life expectancy of their patients greatly. This is why getting in touch with a doctor with experience in dealing with mesothelioma is the best way to find the right treatment.
Moreover, there are clinical trials where patients with mesothelioma can participate in. Because researchers are continuously working on new treatments, participants might benefit and see higher success rates with immunotherapy or gene therapy.
Patients are advised to keep in touch with advocacy groups that offer support to those suffering from mesothelioma. Not only will they provide help and advice, but they are also in the loop on current treatments being developed.
It is important to look for reliable sites with top articles that feature research- and evidence-based treatments. Some of these include cancer.org, mesotheliomagroup.com, and mesothelioma.com. These websites are also supported by doctors who may be approached by patients looking for a specialist to handle their case.
Visiting these sites is also useful in being up-to-date in new treatments for mesothelioma. Fortunately for patients, researchers are learning more about this condition and are trying out various ways to cure this type of cancer. In fact, patients are now living much longer and more comfortably than in the past and the future holds much more promise of a more successful way to end mesothelioma.