Mesothelioma Cancer is a deadly, aggressive and rare form of cancer that causes linings in the abdomen, lungs, testes, heart and other organs. Though there is a treatment available for this deadly disease, it is impossible to cure it. In the majority of the cases, Mesothelioma affects the tissues surrounding the lungs. This type of Mesothelioma is called pleural mesothelioma (the tissues surrounding the lungs is called pleura).
As per the records of American Cancer Society, every year 3000 new cases of mesothelioma are recorded every year. The life expectancy of mesothelioma patients is varied on cell type, tumor location, patient characteristics, staging, tumor location, etc. The average life expectancy is between 12 to 21 months. Radiation therapy, surgery, clinical trials, and chemotherapy are proved to improve prognosis, but there is no cure for mesothelioma.
What are the Causes of Mesothelioma Cancer?
Inhaling the asbestos fibers are proven to be the confirmed cause of Mesothelioma cancer. However, different other factors increase the potential risk of making it aggressive. In the majority of the cases, Mesothelioma symptoms take anywhere between 10-50 years to show up or develop.
So, it is often difficult to identify the disease. As of now, asbestos is proven to be the cause of over 90% of reported Mesothelioma cases. Though inhaling asbestos fibers is the confirmed cause of this aggressive cancer, the smoking habit can further catalyze the rate of damage.
Mesothelioma cases were first identified in the 1900s when the mine workers in asbestos factory had developed a deadly lung disease. The scientific studies conducted in the 1960s have linked asbestos exposure with mesothelioma and other diseases.
When asbestos fibers become airborne, they may be inhaled or swallowed, which can be eventually lodged in the intricate linings of abdomen, lungs or heart. These fibers can inhibit the natural cancer defenses in the body and start mutating. The patient may experience scarring and irritation in the lungs or the other affected organs. Upon a time, the scarred tissues turn into tumors.
Asbestos workplaces are not the only places that are prone to the risks of Mesothelioma. Some cases are even reported in places like schools, dorms, old-age homes, etc. when they have disturbed the asbestos sheets during repairs or renovations.
● A person swallows or inhales the airborne asbestos dust occurred by disturbing the asbestos fibers.
● The inhaled or swallowed asbestos lodged in the membranes or the linings of abdomen or lungs or heart.
● Inflammation is caused when the embedded fibers destroy the mesothelial cells.
● Tumors develop on the damaged mesothelium over time. The mesothelium is the lining or membrane on the abdomen, heart, lungs, and testes.
● The benign tumors are non-cancerous. If the tumors formed are cancerous, the condition is called as malignant mesothelioma or simply mesothelioma.
What are the Stages of Mesothelioma Cancer?
Mesothelioma cancer spreads with four stages. The stage 1 and stage 2 patients have a good number of treatment options. Palliative treatments are available for patients diagnosed with stage 3 and stage 4 to improve their well-being and quality of life.
Biopsies and imaging tests are used to figure out the cancer stage. The stage indicates the development of mesothelioma tumor from its first appearance on the protective membranes of lungs, heart or abdomen. The developing or spreading of mesothelioma is called metastasis. Once the stage is determined, the doctors decide the treatment methods that suits the condition and have the most favorable impact on the patient’s prognosis.
When the cancer is not spread beyond the membranes of the abdomen, lungs or heart, it is categorized as Stage 1 Mesothelioma. Treatment options are available to remove the tumor and spread to extend the life expectancy.
- Most of the times, the patients with Stage 1 Mesothelioma have the disease confined to the lining on only one lung.
- It can be easily removed through treatment options like chemotherapy and surgery.
- The curative and traditional treatments are proven to be most effective in stage 1 patients. The life expectancy can be extended between 30 to 40 months.
Even Stage 2 Mesothelioma is considered as early-stage cancer.
- If the tumor has not spread beyond the lining of the abdomen, lungs or heart from its first appearance, it falls under stage 2 mesothelioma.
- The tumors at stage 2 mesothelioma patients are limited to one side of the lungs or chest.
- The tumor may spread to the surface of the lung or diaphragm in advanced cases.
- The patients diagnosed with stage 2 mesothelioma are eligible for curative treatments, and there is a good chance for positive impact as the cancer spread is limited.
When mesothelioma is not spread beyond one side of the body, and lymph nodes are a bit far from the primary tumor, it is categorized under Stage 3.
- The treatment options are available to improve the quality of life.
- The prognosis and impact will be much better than the ones diagnosed with the later stages of cancer.
- However, there are only a few treatment options for this stage, but still, some of them can be life-saving.
- The patients must always prefer to take a second opinion from a specialist and experienced doctors as undergoing the stage 3 diagnosis could potentially limit the treatment options.
When the mesothelioma is metastasized far from where it’s first appeared, it is categorized under Stage 4 Mesothelioma. Here the tumor is spread across the structures and organs of the body.
- There are no curative treatment options for stage 4 mesothelioma.
- However, participating in clinical trials and some palliative treatments can improve the prognosis.
- In stage 4 patients, the tumor is spread across the pericardium, chest wall and diaphragm.
- The cancerous cells has already invaded the lymph nodes.
Common Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is one of the diseases that has a long latency period. Symptoms emerge decades after the exposure to airborne asbestos. Sometimes it takes 10-50 years for symptoms to emerge.
There are no specific symptoms for mesothelioma. Most of the times they resemble the symptoms of other common diseases which is the reason why the diagnosis is delayed in many cases. The symptoms vary based on staging, cell type, and type of the tumor. However, here are some of the common symptoms of mesothelioma.
● Difficulty breathing (shortness of breath called as dyspnea)
● Dry cough
● Muscle weakness
● Loss of appetite
● The peritoneal effusion or pleural effusion that causes fluid buildup
● Night Sweats
● Respiratory complications
● Pain in the abdomen or chest
● Unexplained or rapid weight loss.
These symptoms do not show up for a long time until the tumors are spread. As mesothelioma has a long latency period of 10-50 years, most of the patients are in their 50s, 60s or 70s. In case, if you work in the environments with asbestos exposure and you experience any of the above symptoms, it is recommended to consult a mesothelioma specialist as early diagnosis may help for better prognosis and extend life expectancy.
How is Mesothelioma Treated?
Mesothelioma tumors do not develop as a single tumor mass, and so it’s challenging to treat it. It spreads across the nerves, surfaces and blood vessels; thus it’s difficult to get rid of it entirely with radiation treatment or surgery. However, the treatment options of mesothelioma are similar to other cancers. The multimodal approach to surgery is made to treat it aggressively. Radiation and chemotherapy treatments are also used to treat mesothelioma. These treatments are proven to improve the prognosis and life expectancy to 30 months or more. The palliative treatments are used to treat or get relief from the symptoms.
Surgery: It is used to get rid of as much of the cancerous tumors as possible. It also aims to remove fluid buildup, reduce tumor size and relieve from painful symptoms palliatively.
Radiation therapy: It is used to destroy the cancerous cells and to stop their growth. It also helps to reduce mesothelioma symptoms.
Chemotherapy: It helps to kill the aggressively-developing cancerous cells and to kill the other mesothelioma cells after or before the surgery.
Follow Up – What’s the Care one has to take After a Mesothelioma Diagnosis>
The patient has to attend the doctor check-up regularly after the treatment for mesothelioma. Usually, the patients have follow-up appointments once every month to check the improvement or any problems. The patients can raise concerns about the progress of their doctor.
The doctor examines the progress and asks you if you have any side-effects or symptoms.
The patient may also need to have some tests.
● CT Scans
● Blood tests
If everything is okay, your doctor suggests you attend him once every two months or three months.
What are the Alternative Methods to Relieve Mesothelioma Symptoms?
Generally, doctors do not mention alternative or complementary treatments. However, some patients have experienced significant relief and positivity from alternative methods. Some of the alternative treatment methods for mesothelioma include special diets, vitamins, massages, herbs, acupuncture, etc. Some of these methods can be helpful and make the patients feel better as they experience relief from symptoms. However, these methods are not scientifically proven to work significantly. Please keep following FitorFugly for more such articles!