Here we will learn more about the mesothelioma types, diagnosing symptoms, stages, and treatments. You’ll also learn more about Testicular Mesothelioma, Pleural Mesothelioma, Peritoneal Mesothelioma and Pericardial Mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is almost untreatable and considered to be one of the deadliest diseases known to man. Mesothelioma cancer affects the mesothelium. The mesothelium is the sac that lines and protects the vital organs such as the heart and the lungs. When one is diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer, the cells in the lining of this sac becomes abnormal and malignant. When the cancer spreads, it could affect the rest of the organs of the body.
Caused by exposure to asbestos and asbestos-related substances, mesothelioma claims more than 2,000 lives per year. These are the lives of hardworking men and women who have labored for practically a lifetime to provide for their families. These are people who work in shipyards, and mines, as well as people whose professions are usually engineers, steelworkers, or auto mechanics. As they struggle every day to feed their families, they do not know about the hazards of asbestos that could eventually claim their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
When asbestos is cut, sawn and broken into pieces, small particles are released into the atmosphere and when inhaled some become lodged in the mesothelioma cells, thus developing into cancer cells.
Exposure Latency Period
What makes mesothelioma even deadlier is its latency period. Diagnosis can only be done 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. For most victims, it might be too late already, since cancer needs an immediate diagnosis to develop an immediate treatment to achieve immediate recovery. Loved ones of mesothelioma victims are not immune to the hazards brought about by asbestos exposure. Second-hand exposure could result in the same symptoms that the initial victim is experiencing. Furthermore, those residing in areas near factories that handle asbestos-related substances are not at all impervious to the disease.
Where is Mesothelium Found?
The earliest signs include abdominal or chest pains, shortness of breath and bloating. The manifestation of mesothelioma is usually tiny nodules that line the abdomen or lungs. Unfortunately, this kind of cancer does not cause symptoms until it has progressed to stages III and IV.
By this time, the tumors have grown and are pressing on the abdominal cavity and chest wall. Though recognizing the disease as cancer at an early stage is a challenge, it is still possible to spot some signs if you are keen.
These signs include:
- A wheezing or dry cough
- Dyspnea or shortness of breath
- Respiratory system complications
- Chest and/or abdominal pains
- Night sweating and fever
- Fluid around the lungs or pleural effusion
- Muscle weakness and fatigue
Unfortunately, most signs are diagnosed by mistakes during x-rays for other conditions or blood tests. By the time these signs are showing, cancer usually has spread to other parts of the body and is now difficult to control. The severity of mesothelioma symptoms also depends on the stage.
Though there is no treatment yet for mesothelioma, therapies and other medical interventions have enabled victims to live longer and have healthier lives. The multidisciplinary medical approach is also contributing to a better quality of life after diagnosis. Medical specialists are also offering patient-specific treatment for mesothelioma, which is credited for improved health conditions for most victims.
The multimodal approach is given, especially when the tumor is not concentrated at one point. This involves a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation in some cases. Palliative treatment is offered if the cancer cells have spread beyond the point of origin. Treatment will also focus on the symptoms with the aim of delivering comfort and prolonging life.
One of the challenges with mesothelioma is the similarity of its symptoms with those of other respiratory diseases. This makes it a huge challenge to effectively diagnose the condition without carrying out extensive testing and medical procedures. The first encounter is usually with a general practitioner as you seek treatment for such symptoms as shortness of breath, coughing and chest pain, among others.
When the symptoms are treated unsuccessfully, a keen doctor will recommend attention from a team of specialists that could include surgeons, radiologists, pulmonologists, pathologists, and oncologists, among others. Even the highly qualified and experienced oncologists find it challenging to diagnose this disease. This is why it is necessary to involve the other specialists. Several tests and procedures are carried out for confirmatory purposes.
- Imaging tests- these include X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and PET scan. Their purpose is to locate the positioning of tumors inside the body. One test may be used or a number of them depending on the location of the cancerous tumor.
- Blood Marker Test- doctors order several blood tests that are used to determine the extent of cancerous cells in the body. Blood tests will also help with the analysis of the type of cancer in order to determine the most appropriate treatment.
- Biopsy- it involves the collection of fluids or tissues from the affected area and the examination of these tissues using a microscope. The results will indicate the exact cell type affected and have been determined as the surest mesothelioma diagnosis method.
Staging helps doctors to determine the severity as well as the progression of cancer. There are four stages as indicated by symptoms and disease progression. If the diagnosis is at stage 1, it indicates that there is hope for treatment and a long-term management. When the diagnosis is at stage 4, the patient is usually confined to palliative care.
Because mesothelioma is a very rare condition, formal staging has only been restricted to pleural mesothelioma, which is the most common type. However, general guidelines on the symptoms and manifestation will indicate the stage for easy treatment.
- Stage 1– the cancerous tissues are usually restricted to one location. These cells have not extended to such areas as lymph nodes or other sensitive organs. This stage presents the possibility of surgery to remove the cancerous cells.
- Stage 2– the tumor has enlarged and even invaded the surrounding organs. Some of the organs usually affected include the diaphragm and lungs. Lymph nodes may also be affected at this stage. The possibility of surgery still remains but will depend on how far the cancerous cells have spread.
- Stage 3– mesothelioma has attacked the surrounding areas which might include lymph nodes, esophagus, and the chest wall. Treatment at this stage is only an attempt with no guaranteed results. Even surgery is usually difficult and not recommended.
- Stage 4– this is usually the final stage where the disease has affected other organs and tissues around the body. At this point, surgery is not even an option. Treatment at this stage is only meant for pain relief and delivering comfort.
Mesothelioma stages can only be ascertained through extensive testing. You need confirmatory tests to establish the extent of cancerous growth and the best treatment or management method. Progression will depend on how well the condition is managed at each stage.