What is Mesothelioma?
A terminal, aggressive cancer occuring in the lining of the lungs, affecting the thin layer of tissue surrounding the lungs and other vital organs.
It is also called mesothelium cancer, the membrane that lines the internal organs such as the chest and the abdomen. Though it is a type of lung cancer, it can also begin in the abdominal cavity or around the heart.
The malignant cells from this aggressive cancer can metastasize and spread to other organs and damage the tissues. Asbestos exposure is linked to Mesothelioma as one of the primary causes of developing the disease.
Other than asbestos, other possible causes for Mesothelioma include the SV40 virus, radiation, genetics, etc.
Types of mesotheliomas:
Mesothelioma is divided into subtypes based on the location of the tumor and the tumor cell variant. By location, the most common types of Mesothelioma are as follows.
1. Peritoneal Mesothelioma:
This type of malignant mesothelioma cancer affects the tissues surrounding the abdominal organs. It generally develops in the peritoneum, the thin membrane covering the surface of the abdominal organs and the abdominal cavity.
The peritoneal Mesothelioma accounts for 10-20% of all cases, while symptoms include bowel changes, bloating, abdominal swelling and pain, etc.
2. Pleural Mesothelioma:
Pleural Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that occurs in the pleura (the lining of the chest cavity and the lungs). It is an aggressive type of cancer that prevents the lungs and the chest from expanding, causing the pleura to thicken.
According to data, pleural Mesothelioma accounts for 70-75% of all mesothelioma cases. Still, typically the cancer is not often identified until it reaches the later stages.
Typical symptoms include fever, chest pain, shortness of breath, dry cough, weight loss, and fatigue.
3. Pericardial Mesothelioma:
This is one of the more uncommon types of Mesothelioma and accounts for only 1% of all the cases identified. The pericardial Mesothelioma develops in the pericardium, the protective sac around the heart.
The average life expectancy is six months, but patients can survive for up to two years with surgery. The typical symptoms include chest pain, irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, etc.
The role of asbestos exposure
Multiple research projects found a link between asbestos exposure and the development of Mesothelioma. According to research, asbestos exposure is the cause of almost eight in ten people who have pleural Mesothelioma.
Asbestos is a group of naturally strong mineral fibers that are chemical and fire-resistant. Asbestos has been used in the manufacturing of ceilings, floor tiles, construction material, automotive parts, etc., for many decades.
Slight traces of asbestos are generally harmless. However, during long-term exposure, the fibers can break down into tiny particles which can enter the lungs when you breathe them in.
The particles lodge themselves in the lungs and the lining, which then causes scarring and inflammation.
How do patients with pleural Mesothelioma identify symptoms?
Pleural Mesothelioma is the most common form of Mesothelioma, which occurs when asbestos fibers become embedded in the lining of the lungs.
People suffering from this disease can experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Dry cough
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Fluid in the lungs
- Difficulty swallowing
- Night sweats
Other than pleural Mesothelioma, people suffering from other forms of this disease can experience the following symptoms:
- Swelling in the abdomen
- Weight loss
- Blood clot abnormalities
- Heart palpitations
What treatment should pleural mesothelioma patients opt for?
Pleural Mesothelioma is typically diagnosed with the help of one or more tests, including chest x-rays, blood tests, pleural fluid cytology, imaging tests, and biopsy.
After the diagnosis, the doctor recommends a series of management and treatment options to improve the patient’s condition. The doctors may choose to go with a multimodal approach or a combination of different standard treatments to treat pleural Mesothelioma.
Following are the standard treatment options:
- Chemotherapy: It is a drug that stops the growth of cancer cells by either preventing them from dividing or killing them. The drug is administered in different ways, including placing it directly into the affected area, injecting it into the vein or the muscle, or orally.
- Radiation: This treatment uses different types of radiation and high-energy x-rays to kill the cancerous cells. This treatment can be given both internally and externally with the help of machines, needles, and wires.
- Surgery: It is the most common option that includes surgically removing the cancerous cell from the body. Surgery is often used in combination with chemotherapy and radiation.
What is the prognosis for people with Mesothelioma?
There is no known cure for Mesothelioma, especially pleural Mesothelioma. The survival rate for Mesothelioma generally refers to the percentage or number of people who live one and five years after diagnosis.
According to data, the 5-year survival rate for pleural mesothelioma patients is just 12% and 52% for peritoneal Mesothelioma. The survival rate is also affected by the stage of the disease, age, overall health, tumor location, race/ethnicity, and gender.
According to research, females aged 45 with stage 1 disease, a combination of treatments, and epithelioid cell type had better survival rates beyond two years.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive disease that can leave families devastated. While there is no known cure for the disease, adequate information can better help patients deal with their situation.