Here we will learn more about the mesothelioma types, diagnosing symptoms, stages, treatments. You’ll also know more about Testicular Mesothelioma, Pleural Mesothelioma, Peritoneal Mesothelioma and pericardial Mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is almost untreatable and considered as 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 cancer spreads, it could affect the rest of the organs of the body.
Caused by exposure to asbestos and asbestos-related substances, mesothelioma has claimed 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, mines. And people whose professions are either engineers, steelworkers, auto mechanics. As they struggle every day to feed their families they do not know of hazards of asbestos that will 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.
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 the immediate diagnosis to make 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.
Here is a look at different Mesothelioma Types and their symptoms.
This is a baffling condition considering that asbestos, that are known to cause the condition, are either inhaled or ingested. The surprising fact is that most of the people who were diagnosed with testicular mesothelioma did not have a history of exposure to asbestos. This is a very rare type, affecting only a 1% of mesothelioma patients.
Testicular mesothelioma is diagnosed by fluid buildup, swelling or intense pain in the testes. It is treated through surgery where the affected cells are surgically removed. The two other treatment options available are radiation therapy and chemotherapy. People with this condition have a higher rate of survival compared to others. The average survival period after diagnosis is 20-23 months, but there is a case of a man who lived for 15 years after diagnosis.
This is the most common cancer related to asbestos. It affects the membranes lining the chest cavities and lungs. The asbestos are inhaled into the body, which then struggles to remove them. Since they are minute and needle-like, they travel to the pleural lining, leading to chronic irritation and inflammation. Their presence causes genetic change that results in cancerous cells. The cells grow to uncontrollable levels and in the process become a threat to the surrounding cells.
The symptoms you will experience include dyspnea or shortness of breath, persistent raspy or dry cough, difficulty in swallowing, blood stained cough and chest pains, among others. Unfortunately, the symptoms will not be noticed until it is too late for the cancer to be treated. Other signs may include weight loss and cases of fatigue. Other rare or unnoticeable cases include nerve pain, back pain and swollen face as well as arms. You may also experience lumps under the skin around your chest. The best method for diagnosis is thoracoscopy. Treatment is usually palliative or cytoreductive, both aimed at managing and improving the quality of life of a patient.
This is the second most common of the four mesothelioma types. It affects between 10-20% of Mesothelioma victims. The symptoms of this cancer appear between 20 and 50 years after the first asbestos exposure. The confusing nature of symptoms makes it difficult to diagnose a patient early. The victim experiences constipation or diarrhea, abdominal pains, abdominal distensions and swelling as well as tenderness around the abdomen.
Treatment of peritoneal mesothelioma will depend on three factors;
- The stage of diagnosis- those diagnosed early have a higher chance of getting treatment compared to those diagnosed late.
- Type of treatment administered- different stages require specialized treatment procedures. Further, each person responds differently to treatment.
- Quality of specialized treatment provided. Seek treatment from specialists who also have advanced equipment and medication to offer treatment.
Surgery is important for long term survival. Those patients who are unable to access surgery live less than a year or thereabout. For those who access chemotherapy and surgery, they enjoy a prolonged healthier life for approximately 5 years. Clinical trials are taking place to test the effectiveness of a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy.
This is another of the very rare mesothelioma types. In fact, only about 200 cases have been recorded in medical history. It affects the thin membrane around the heart. Like the other mesotheliomas, the symptoms easily get confused with those of common diseases. Some of the common symptoms include dypsea or difficult in breathing even when resting, chest pains, persistent cough and fever episodes. You will also experience irregular heartbeats or palpitations, murmurs and excessive fatigue. Other patients report shortness of breath especially when lying flat and excessive sweating at night.
The tumors can be spotted using such methods as imaging and biopsy. A confirmatory test or second opinion will help you avoid misdiagnosis. The delicate nature of the heart makes common treatment methods difficult to administer. Surgery is also an option where the membrane is removed to ease functioning of the heart. A combination of diagnosis stage, treatment and your response will determine how long you live. Most people live for six months but there are several cases of people who lived for years.
The secret to dealing with any of the mesothelioma types is early diagnosis. Always get a second opinion or confirmatory test to avoid misdiagnosis. Further, see a specialist who understands the condition and is ready to provide the latest treatment regime.
The earliest signs of mesothelioma are usually confused with those of respiratory diseases. This is why the condition remains untreated for most people until when it is too late. The location of the cancer will also determine the kind of symptoms and signs to expect. It takes a keen oncologist to probe further for mesothelioma.
The earliest signs include abdominal or chest pains, shortness of breath and bloating. The manifestation for mesothelioma is usually tiny nodules that line the abdomen or lungs. Unfortunately, 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;
- 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, the cancer usually has spread to other parts 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 healthier lives. Multidisciplinary medical approach is also contributing to 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.
Mesothelioma treatments vary depending on several factors.
- Stage of the cancer- it is easier to treat the tumor when it is still localized. Once it has spread to other organs, the chances of treating the cancerous cells diminish. Regional and distant spreading are also considered when looking at treatment.
- Type of mesothelioma- the type depends on location of the cancerous cells and tumor. There are treatment procedures that will fit some organs and not others. This is especially based on how easy such a condition can affect the surrounding cells.
- Cell type- different cancerous cells respond to treatment procedures differently. Some may spread to other areas as others diminish. This is why doctors conduct thorough checks before administering treatment.
- Overall health- older patients and those of poor health experience difficulties with treatment. The aggressive type of cancerous cells may lead to fast progression.
Multimodial 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 your life.
One of the challenges with mesothelioma is the similarity of the 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 breathe, 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- they 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 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 has been determined as the surest mesothelima diagnosis method.
Staging helps doctors to determine the severity as well as the progression of the 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. 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 extent of cancerous growth and the best treatment or management method. Progression will depend on how well the condition is managed at each stage.