Mesothelioma cancer develops in the lining of the lungs, heart or stomach. (And its name derives from the scientific term for this coating – the mesothelium.)
Like most cancers, mesothelioma begins as a single, fairly small nodule. Progressively, the tumors are expanded by the surface of the coating in spiral form. By the time cancer develops completely, it spreads extremely rapidly to other organs.
The progression of mesothelioma cancer is measured in stages ranging from one to four scales. Stage I is the least severe, while stage IV is the most severe. Mesothelioma cancer has very mild symptoms in its early stages and that is why most patients who are diagnosed are in stage III or IV.
What are the types of mesothelioma?
Four types of mesothelioma are known. Each one indicates that the disease is growing in a specific part of the body.
- Pleural mesothelioma – develops in the mesothelium that lines the lungs.
- Peritoneal mesothelioma – develops in the mesothelium that lines the stomach.
- Pericardial mesothelioma – develops in the mesothelium that lines the heart.
- Testicular mesothelioma – develops in the lining of the testicles.
More than 75% of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma suffer from the pleural type. Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common and represents between 10 and 20 percent of cases, while pericardial and testicular mesothelioma accounts for only 1 percent of diagnoses.
Mesothelioma cancer can also be classified by cell type. There are three types of cells that coat the mesothelium and mesothelioma cancer can develop in any of them. The types of cellular mesothelioma include:
- Epithelial mesothelioma – develops in fairly small cells of the membrane, much like a tube.
- Mesothelioma of the sarcomatoid – develops in the cells of the long membranes – similar to an axis.
- Biphasic mesothelioma – develops in the epithelial and sarcomatoid cells.
What causes mesothelioma cancer?
Exposure to asbestos is the main reason why people get mesothelioma. Almost 80 percent of cases are related to occupational exposures. The vast majority of other cases are associated with exposure to the mineral in homes or some type of environmental exposure.
Asbestos fibers enter the body through the nose or mouth and if they are trapped in the mesothelium, they can begin to cause quite a strong damage at the tissue level. Over time, the fibers are causing inflammation, scarring and genetic changes, for some people this can lead to mesothelioma.
After some type of exposure, months, years or decades can go by without any symptoms. Mesothelioma cancer is very well known to develop slowly, tumors caused by the disease may take between 20 and 50 years to develop.
Exposure to asbestos does not always cause cancer of mesothelioma. Occasionally, exposure can cause lung cancer or asbestosis and in some cases, it does not cause any type of disease. There are many factors that affect the possibility of a person contracting mesothelioma, these can range from the duration of the exposure, the intensity of it and the genes of the person exposed.
Who is affected by mesothelioma cancer?
Mesothelioma can affect patients regardless of race, age or sex. However, some characteristics present in patients are a little more common than others.
The majority of patients affected by mesothelioma cancer are white male patients, older than 65 years. Women, children, and people who are identified as African-American or Hispanic are affected to a much lesser degree compared to those mentioned above.
A little less than 3,000 people have affected annually in the United States and that number has remained in recent years. Research has shown that far fewer people will be affected by mesothelioma cancer after the year 2055.
How to know if it has been affected?
Most patients affected by mesothelioma cancer do not realize they have the disease until the time they are diagnosed. Symptoms vary from chest pain to cough, as well as:
- Difficulties to Breathe
- Reduction of Breast Expansion
- Abdominal pain
Affected patients may think they have a common disease at the beginning. Normally, a medical history, a physical examination and different types of advanced diagnoses are needed to know if the patient is affected by the disease.
What to do if you are diagnosed with mesothelioma?
If you have mesothelioma, you may find yourself a little more tired than normal after some type of physical exertion. You can probably feel airless frequently and additionally feel the need to take breaks longer than usual. Additionally, weight loss is normal and depending on how serious the symptoms of the disease may be, the need to go to a doctor to obtain pain-relieving medications, oxygen tanks or other assistance.
Once the diagnosis is confirmed, you will need to speak with a doctor to discuss your treatment options as quickly as possible. (If your doctor is not familiar with the most appropriate treatment for this disease, you may have the need to travel to treat yourself with an expert in the field.)
The treatment plan should be developed quickly after the initial diagnosis and depending on the stage in which the disease is found, you may have the option to choose between potentially curative options or palliative treatments to relieve pain.
- Healing surgeries – these include pleurectomy/decortication and extra-pleural pneumonectomy.
- Curative chemotherapy uses drugs that try to eliminate cancer cells. The use of drugs in the chemotherapy process includes cytoplasmic, carboplatin and doxorubicin.
- Curative radiation therapy uses radiation beams to kill cancer cells.
- Palliative surgery can remove tumors from the body with the intention of reducing pain or a surgeon could remove the fluid accumulated in the internal cavities.
- Palliative oxygen therapy and respiratory therapy help the patient to breathe more easily.
- Alternative therapies such as special diets, nutritional supplements, yoga, and acupuncture can be a form of palliative care (this help relieve symptoms naturally), or they can help the body recover naturally.
- Multimodal therapy – is a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and curative surgery. It is the preferred method for patients who can adhere to an aggressive regimen to treat the disease. Studies by expert doctors in the field have found that multimodal therapy increases life expectancy in five years by 45 percent.
Additionally, patients with mesothelioma can join mesothelioma clinical trials. Due to the fact that a specific treatment has not yet been found to defeat the disease, specialists in the field are always looking for and trying new techniques to try to find a cure. Currently, the experimental therapies being tested are those of the virus used to combat measles and Pentostatin.