Mesothelium is the name given to thin layer tissue that covers most of your internal organs and mesothelioma is a rare cancer that develops on this layer. It is one of the most aggressive types of cancer. This deadly cancer cannot be cured and in most of the cases it is diagnosed only in the advanced stage. When cancerous cells grow on the tissue surrounding the lungs it is known as pleural mesothelioma and if it develops on the tissues of the abdomen it is called peritoneal mesothelioma. Exact cause of mesothelioma is not known, but asbestos exposure for long term can increase the risk. Once the symptoms start appearing it indicates that disease has already progressed.
Mesothelioma Symptoms :
For pleural mesothelioma, the affected person may have symptoms of persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, fever, clotting of blood and loss of weight (without taking effort). Pleura is the covering layer of lungs which is filled with fluid causing breathing difficulty.
For peritoneal mesothelioma, the person may get severe abdominal cramps, swelling of abdomen, lumps in the abdomen and weight loss. Symptoms may occur even after 20-40 years of exposure to asbestos. For some cases, cancer cells can metastasize spreading to other body parts. Each year about 3000 fresh cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the USA alone.
Exact cause of mesothelioma is not known. It is believed to occur due to defective genetic mutation. Asbestos exposure can increase the risk factor for getting this deadly cancer. Tiny molecules of asbestos fiber are released into the air which can be inhaled easily. Exposure to erionite, exposure to radiation of high doses and genetic factor can cause mesothelioma.
Risk Factors :
Asbestos exposure is the major risk for mesothelioma. Breaking up of this mineral can lead to the formation of asbestos fiber that can be easily inhaled into the lungs or stomach. There are people who never got mesothelioma even after several years of asbestos exposure. People who live with a person of asbestos exposure are also prone to develop this cancer later.
Your doctor will collect complete medical history and look for signs of mesothelioma symptoms. He may order for chest X-ray, CT scan of chest/abdomen. He may also do a biopsy by removing a small tissue sample from the affected area of your body to test it in the lab. Fluid aspiration is done to collect fluid sample from your chest or abdomen. For some people, laparoscopy or thoracoscopy is done to collect tissue sample and to get clear picture.
Stages of Cancer :
Before giving any treatment, your doctor will find out the stage of cancer.
- In the first stage, mesothelioma cells are found only to limited portion of the chest lining.
- In the second stage, the cancerous cells would spread beyond the chest lining.
- In the next stage, the cancer cells would have invaded the neighboring lymph nodes also causing inflammation.
- In the final stage, the cancer would have metastasized spreading to other vital organs.
Mesothelioma Treatment :
Based on the health condition and stage of cancer, treatment course is decided. Mesothelioma is a rare but aggressive cancer for which no cure is available. Unfortunately, symptoms appear only during the final stage of cancer when the cancer cells have metastasized. Although mesothelioma cannot be cured, surgery is done for giving you a comfortable life for the remaining period.
Pleurectomy is done for removing excess of fluid from your chest. Part of outer layer covering of the lungs and the affected part is also removed during the surgery. Tissues (affected) from the abdomen portion are removed by surgery called peritonectomy. This can give relief from abdominal pain and other symptoms. In another procedure called debulking most of the affected tissues are removed from the affected area. Extrapleural pneumonectomy process is removal of one of your lungs along with part of diaphragm and lining sac of your heart.
- Chemotherapy :
This process is used to destroy cancer causing cells. It is given either in the form of drugs or given directly into the affected part. Many times, chemo is used after surgery to prevent the growth of cancer cells further.
- Radiation :
High energy beam of rays are passed directly into the affected part of the body in this process. Experts are working on several other methods of clinical trials for treating mesothelioma.
Lifestyle Changes :
You can learn and practice relaxation techniques and breathing exercises to reduce the intensity of symptoms. Gather information about your disease and get involved with support network to share your feelings with others.
You cannot totally prevent getting mesothelioma. But you can avoid or reduce exposure to asbestos for sure. People working in mines, shipping industry, insulation factory and construction should be educated about the adverse effect of asbestos.