Mesothelioma is a deadly and aggressive form of cancer; treatments are available for it, but a cure is not possible for many people with mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos exposure is common at work or in old buildings, and after inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers, the fibers may settle in some organ linings, causing inflammation or scarring.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer that starts in the lining of certain organs. It usually affects the lining of the lungs (called the pleura). It can, however, affect the lining of the stomach or the lining of the heart.
Mesothelioma of the chest, also known as malignant pleural mesothelioma is a common type of Mesothelioma
The pleura or pleural membranes are two thin layers of cells found inside your chest. Each layer is about the thickness of a balloon’s skin. The inner layer protects your lungs, while the outer layer lines your rib cage.
The pleural space is the space between the two layers and normally contains a small amount of fluid. As you breathe in and out, this fluid lubricates the two surfaces and allows your lungs and chest wall to move and expand.
Mesothelioma typically affects only one side of the chest. As cancer cells grow and multiply, they form a slew of small clumps known as tumors. These tumors are dispersed throughout the lining of your lung and rib cage, thickening it.
What causes Mesothelioma?
Past exposure to asbestos fibers and dust is the leading cause of mesothelioma in adults. Between 70% and 80% of mesothelioma patients were exposed to asbestos, mostly at work. Symptoms appear after more than 20 years.
People have developed mesothelioma after being exposed to similar minerals such as silica and erionite in smaller numbers. Erionite is a zeolite mineral that has been linked to mesothelioma.
Scientists are also looking into whether genes play a role in the risk of developing mesothelioma. This is due to the fact that only a small number of people who were exposed to asbestos developed mesothelioma.
Scientists are also investigating other causes, such as chemical exposure, radiation and viral infections.
Furthermore, radiation therapy has been linked to childhood mesothelioma.
How does asbestos cause Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma can develop in 20 years time (commonly) or can develop between 15 and 50 years after asbestos exposure.
The pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial linings (mesothelium) protect internal organs. Mesothelium is a tissue composed of mesothelial cells that reacts to asbestos exposure.
Asbestos fibers inflame this tissue, resulting in scar tissue plaques forming on the surface of the protective lining. Malignant mesothelioma tumors begin to grow within this scar tissue.
Pleural mesothelioma develops when asbestos fibers are inhaled and become embedded in the lungs’ protective lining (pleura). Asbestos fibers cause inflammation and scarring within the lining over time, which can lead to disease progression.
When asbestos fibers are consumed, they can cause peritoneal mesothelioma, which develops within the abdominal lining (peritoneal lining).
Pericardial mesothelioma is an extremely rare form of the disease that develops in the membrane surrounding the heart (pericardium).
According to research, pericardial mesothelioma develops when asbestos fibers enter the bloodstream and become embedded in the pericardial membrane.
What are the symptoms of Mesothelioma
Many of the early symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to those caused by other problems, so people may dismiss them or misdiagnose them at first. Most mesothelioma patients have symptoms for at least a few months before being diagnosed.
Major Mesothelioma symptoms
Loss of weight (without trying to)
Clots in the blood
These symptoms may be caused by mesothelioma, but they are more frequently caused by other conditions. Still, if you have any of these symptoms (especially if you have been exposed to asbestos), you should see a doctor right away so that the cause can be identified and treated, if necessary.
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma (chest mesothelioma)
1. Pain in the lower back or side of the chest
2. Breathing difficulty
4. Having difficulty swallowing (feeling like food gets stuck in your throat)
6. Face and arm swelling
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma
1. Pain in the abdomen
2. Abdominal swelling or fluid
3. Vomiting and nausea
Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma
1. Chest ache
2. Heart rhythm irregularity
3. Murmur in the heart
4. Breathing difficulty
How is Mesothelioma diagnosed
The only way to find out if you have mesothelioma is to have a biopsy, which is a procedure that removes a small portion of tissue for laboratory examination. Your doctor will choose the best biopsy procedure for you based on the area of your body that is affected.
Among the procedures are:
1. A needle is inserted through the skin:
A thin needle inserted through the skin on your chest or abdomen may be used to remove fluid or tissue.
2. Taking a tissue sample during surgery;
During an operation, a fluid or tissue sample may be collected. To see inside your chest or abdomen, the surgeon may make a small incision and insert a tube with a video camera. To collect a tissue sample, special tools can be passed through the tube.
Under a microscope, the tissue sample is examined to determine whether the abnormal tissue is mesothelioma and what types of cells are involved. Your treatment plan is determined by the type of mesothelioma you have.
3. Determining the cancer’s extent;
Once you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, your doctor may recommend additional tests to determine whether the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes or other parts of your body.
Among the possible tests are:
1. Chest and abdominal CT scans
2. Tomography using positron emission tomography (PET)
3. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (MRI)
But which of the tests above are appropriate for you?. These is determined by your doctor. Not everyone requires every test.
The results of these tests are used by your doctor to determine the stage of your cancer.
Pleural mesothelioma stages are denoted by Roman numerals ranging from I to IV. A lower number indicates that the cancer is more likely to be localized to the area around the lungs, while a higher number indicates that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
As doctors improve cancer diagnosis and treatment, the cancer staging system evolves and becomes more complex. Your doctor will choose the best treatments for you based on your cancer stage.
Treatment options for Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma can be difficult to treat because it rarely grows as a single tumor mass. It spreads to nearby surfaces, nerves, and blood vessels. This frequently makes it difficult to completely eradicate the cancer with surgery and/or radiation. Palliative procedures may be used to treat some symptoms of mesothelioma in some people.
Because mesothelioma is a rare cancer, doctors have struggled to compare the efficacy of various treatments. Only a few large clinical trials of mesothelioma treatments have been conducted. Furthermore, many doctors have little experience treating this disease. They usually refer patients to specialists at major medical centers who treat a large number of mesothelioma patients.
The location and extent of the tumor, whether it has spread to lymph nodes or other organs, and your health and personal preferences are the most important factors in deciding on treatment for mesothelioma. Your treatment options may include the following, depending on these factors:
1. Mesothelioma Surgery Palliative Procedures
2. Mesothelioma Chemotherapy
3. Mesothelioma Radiation Therapy
4. Mesothelioma Immunotherapy
5. Mesothelioma Targeted Therapy
How common is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer. In the United States, approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, accounting for less than 0.3% of all cancer diagnoses.
Prevention of mesothelioma
The most effective way to avoid mesothelioma is to avoid inhaling or ingesting asbestos. Wear protective equipment when working with products that may contain asbestos to reduce your risk of exposure.
Because asbestos exposure is by far the most significant risk factor for mesothelioma, the best way to lower your risk is to limit your exposure to asbestos at home, in public buildings, and at work.
Some miners, insulation manufacturers and installers, factory workers, railroad, automotive workers, gas mask manufacturers, ship builders, plumbers, and construction workers may be exposed to high levels of asbestos at work.
If there is a risk of asbestos exposure on the job, such as during the renovation of an old building, you should use all protective equipment and safety procedures designed for working around asbestos.
Asbestos and other toxic materials may be present in older homes.
A knowledgeable expert can inspect your home to determine the presence of asbestos and the risk of exposure. This could include testing the air for asbestos levels. The presence of asbestos in a home does not necessitate its removal.
The fibers will not be released into the air as long as the material is not damaged or disturbed, such as by drilling or remodeling. If asbestos needs to be removed from your home, you should hire a qualified contractor to do so in order to avoid contaminating your home or exposing your family or workers to asbestos. You should not attempt to remove asbestos-containing material on your own.
Asbestos is also found in some commercial and public buildings (including some schools), and the same basic principles apply. Asbestos-containing materials that are intact and undisturbed pose no health risk. They may be dangerous if they are damaged, disturbed, or deteriorate over time, releasing asbestos fibers into the air. All schools are required by federal law to inspect asbestos-containing materials on a regular basis and to have a plan in place to manage them.
Effects of mesothelioma
Mesothelioma can cause fluid accumulation in your heart, lungs, and abdomen, as well as chest, stomach, and back pain and flu-like symptoms. It may also cause weight loss and fatigue.
In the head
1. Mesothelioma can impair a patient’s mental health, causing depression, anxiety, and sadness.
2. Patients suffering from mesothelioma may experience general malaise, including flu-like symptoms such as chills, fever, night sweats, headache, runny nose, congestion, sore throat, and cough.
3. Confusion, forgetfulness, and brain fog are common complaints among mesothelioma chemotherapy patients. This is referred to as “chemo brain” at times.
4. Patients with pericardial mesothelioma may experience dizziness or lightheadedness.
Within the lungs
1. Excessive coughing, a tight feeling in the chest, an increased rate of breathing, and wheezing are symptoms of airway and lung infection, which is frequently caused by bronchitis and pneumonia. These infections are potentially fatal for mesothelioma patients and necessitate immediate medical attention.
2. Pleural effusion occurs when fluid accumulates between the lungs and the chest, impeding the patient’s breathing by limiting lung expansion. This causes chest pain and a lack of oxygen, which causes shortness of breath and fatigue.
Coughing all the time can be painful and exhausting.
Within the chest
1. Pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) or extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) procedures cause significant pain in surgical patients due to the incision made on the side of the chest (thorax) to access the lungs. Pain in the chest and around the incision site can last for weeks or months after surgery.
2. Mesothelioma tumors appear as a large mass that blends in with healthy tissue and can cause pain beneath the rib cage as well as unusual lumps of tissue under the skin on the chest.
Over half of pleural mesothelioma patients experience pain in the lower, back, and sides of the chest caused by tumor pressure.
Im the heart
1. Because of the inflammation, the heart may struggle to fully expand and may become constricted. Symptoms include palpitations, irregular heartbeats, and heart murmurs.
2. Patients with pericardial mesothelioma frequently experience chest pain and fatigue after exertion.
3. Fluid can accumulate in the heart, causing it to work even harder and resulting in fatigue.
In the Back
1. Back pain can be caused by mesothelioma that has spread to the bones of the spine.
2. Mesothelioma can irritate nerves throughout the chest or the lining of the lungs, causing back pain.
In the Stomach
1. Nearly all patients suffer from fluid accumulation, which leads to uncomfortable abdominal swelling or distension.
2. Patients can experience abdominal pain and tenderness as a result of the tumor, swelling, and surgery.
3. Lumps of tissue in the abdomen may be noticed.
4. Weight loss is often experienced by patients of all types of mesothelioma.
Contact your doctor right away if you have any of the above-mentioned mesothelioma symptoms, especially if you have had (or have reason to believe that you have had) exposure to asbestos fibers, which is the only known cause of asbestos cancers.
If a friend or your loved one also has the symptoms of mesothelioma, also help them by taking them to the doctor for diagnosis.