Cancer is something that can be diagnosed by someone during any stage of life. But there are some that are more likely to appear as you get older. One of these cancers is mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the main organ’s protective lining.
You may have heard about the dangers of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is mostly caused by one particular environmental factor, and is generally found in certain workplaces. Understanding how this occupational hazard is related to mesothelioma is key to preventing diagnosis and lowering your risk.
What is Mesothelioma?
While many cancers affect parts of your body that you are aware of, mesothelioma targets something that most people probably don’t think about.
Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor that affects the mesothelium. This part of the body is the layer of tissue that covers your organs such as the lungs, stomach and heart organs. Mesothelium has a different name depending on which part of the body is covered by this tissue. These cancer cells may spread to other parts of the body.
There are three types of mesothelioma:
1. Mesuralelioma pleura
This cancer affects the pleura, which is a protective layer for the lungs. This is the most common form of mesothelioma and accounts for about 75 percent of cases diagnosed.
2. Peritoneal mesothelioma
About 25 percent of cases affect the peritoneal, which is the lining that protects the abdominal containment. This includes organs such as the stomach, intestines, kidneys and liver.
3. Pericardial mesothelioma
This is the rarest form of mesothelioma; only about one percent of patients are diagnosed. It affects the heart’s protective lining, called the pericardial, and is often not captured until after someone dies.
The biggest contributing factor associated with causing mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. This can happen when someone inhales or swallows microscopic airborne asbestos fibers that are inserted into their mesothelium. This damages the protective layer of organs, allowing cancerous tumors to form and cause mesothelioma.
Certain industries make workers more vulnerable to breathing asbestos. Construction sites, shipyards, cement factories and the automotive industry are a few examples. Although anyone exposed to asbestos is at risk for mesothelioma, men are more likely to be diagnosed. It is important to learn everything you can about your work environment to understand whether asbestos exposure is a possibility.
Unlike some cancers that can be caught at an earlier stage, mesothelioma is something that usually will not be diagnosed by a doctor until it is more developed. That’s because the symptoms for this cancer are not immediately visible.
Early Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma can be difficult to detect on its own. This type of cancer often shows no symptoms when first formed. And that means you can live with mesothelioma for years without knowing it.
Because symptoms for mesothelioma usually do not appear at an early stage, this cancer is often diagnosed between 20 and 60 years after exposure to asbestos. Symptoms are usually ignored or not taken seriously because they are usually associated with other problems. The possibility of you being affected depends on the severity, length and frequency of exposure.
Here are the symptoms for pleural mesothelioma, the most common form of this cancer.
- Chest pain or lower back
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Trouble swallowing
- Swollen face and arms
The symptoms associated with peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma are more concerning. Abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, nausea and constipation are common symptoms for peritoneal patients. For those with pericardial mesothelioma, symptoms include chest pain, irregular heart rhythm or murmurs and shortness of breath.
If you are regularly exposed to asbestos or have been in the past, you should see a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Mesothelioma
The doctor will conduct a series of blood, fluid and tissue tests to determine whether a patient has mesothelioma. The chest cavity, abdomen, and membranes around the heart will be explored depending on the symptoms. Biopsy or image tests can also be done if mesothelioma cells are not found in the resulting liquid.
After being tested, a patient will be given a mesothelioma stage based on tumor size and location.
Stage 1: Cancer is localized and the survival rate is around 22 months.
Stage 2: The tumor spreads to the nearest area and life expectancy is lower for up to 20 months.
Stage 3: The cancer has spread to other areas such as lymph nodes, esophagus, chest wall, etc.
Stage 4: The tumor has spread further to distant organs and life expectancy drops to only 15 months.
Those diagnosed with early stage mesothelioma have several options for treatment. Usually involves a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Patients who can get rid of cancer completely from surgery have a better prognosis than those who cannot get rid of it completely.
It is more difficult to carry out curative treatments for mesothelioma in the final-stage diagnosis. In that case, patients usually enter palliative therapy to treat symptoms and improve quality of life.
Living with Mesothelioma
Preventing mesothelioma is difficult. The best way to find out if you are at risk for mesothelioma is to understand the cause. You have to know if you are surrounded by asbestos which can cause this deadly condition later on. And you can also take steps to reduce your exposure to these chemicals.
If you or someone in your family is regularly exposed to asbestos at work or elsewhere, talk to your doctor. Taking action on symptoms that might occur beforehand will increase the likelihood of extending your life with surgery. When you see a change in your health, it’s a good idea to see your doctor as soon as possible.