What is Mesothelioma and Other Important Questions?


What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the protective linings of organs, the mesothelium, in the chest and abdomen. The two most common kinds of mesothelioma are pleural mesothelioma (affecting the lungs) and peritoneal mesothelioma (affecting the abdominal cavity).

Mesothelioma is one of medical conditions caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a name for a group of naturally occurring silicate fibers that have been used for centuries in a variety of materials, from cloth to insulation to wall panels. When asbestos fibers get into the air, during manufacturing, mining, installation or demolition of asbestos containing materials, they can enter the body through the nose and body.

Asbestos damage builds up slowly, and takes a long time to lead to illness. Mesothelioma usually develops decades after asbestos exposure. When it develops symptoms are easily mistaken for a variety of minor illnesses, so diagnosis of mesothelioma usually takes a long time. Often the cancer is in late, or even terminal, stages before it is correctly diagnosed.

What are mesothelioma symptoms?

Symptoms of mesothelioma vary depending on what kind of mesothelioma cancer has developed. Pleural mesothelioma symptoms include difficulty breathing, pain in the sides or back, a hoarse speaking voice, and coughing up blood. Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include pain in the abdomen, bowel obstruction, and stomach problems.
It is important for people who may have been exposed to asbestos to talk with their doctor about the exposure before any symptoms develop. This way the doctor can be alert for possible symptoms of mesothelioma, and can test at the earliest opportunity.

Who is at risk for mesothelioma?

A large number of people are currently at risk for developing mesothelioma. Specifically, anyone who has worked for a long amount of time in: construction, demolition, plumbing, electrical wiring or installation, ship building or maintenance, mining of asbestos or manufacture of asbestos containing products may have been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos.

Also at risk are the families of people in these fields, who may have been exposed to asbestos at second hand, on the clothes their loved ones wore home from work.

What is the prognosis for mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a very aggressive cancer, which combined with how late it is usually diagnosed means that the prognosis for someone diagnosed with it is usually very poor. However, early detection can significantly improve the prognosis, which is why it is so important that anyone who is at risk of developing mesothelioma talk with their doctor about it.

What are the treatment options for mesothelioma?

Chemotherapy is the most successful treatment for mesothelioma. Radiation therapy and surgery can both be used as adjuncts to chemotherapy. There are also a number of ongoing clinical trials into new medications for mesothelioma. Anyone who is not having benefits from the current treatments can speak with their doctor about whether there are any clinical trials currently accepting patients that might be of benefit.

Several alternative therapies have been used to reduce the symptoms of mesothelioma, including massage, acupuncture and reflexology.