Mesothelioma cancer is a rare form of cancer that develops in the mesothelium; the protective lining that covers the internal organs of the body. It is usually caused by exposure to asbestos and the most common form of Mesothelioma is pleural, which affects the lungs, but it can also develop in the peritoneum, which lines the abdominal cavity, and the pericardium – the sac that surrounds the heart. In males it can sometimes be found in the tunica vaginalis, which is the sac that surrounds the testis.
While Mesothelioma remains a relatively rare cancer, there are more and more cases being reported by the older generation who may have been exposed to asbestos in industrial working environments in their younger years. The countries with the highest rate of Mesothelioma cases are Britain, Belgium and Australia, with 30 per 1,000,000 per year.
What makes Mesothelioma so difficult to treat is the fact that it can take 20-50 years for symptoms to develop and when they do present themselves, they are commonly mistaken for other illnesses and suffers sometimes misdiagnose themselves before seeing a doctor.
Types of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a cancerous disease that affects the Mesothelium, which is a thin membrane that covers the lungs or the lining of the abdomen. There are two main types of mesothelioma.
1. Peritoneal (if present in abdomen)
2. Pleural (if present in the chest wall)
Pleural Mesothelioma is more common than peritoneal mesothelioma. Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos fibers are microscopic and once swallowed or breathed in tend to stay in human body. With time they undergo changes and start damaging the body. Thus mesothelioma does not appear suddenly but takes several years before the symptoms start becoming evident.
Mesothelioma is often confused with asbestosis. Asbestosis is also a disease of the lungs that is caused by again the presence of deadly asbestos fibres but it is not cancerous and thus can be treated more effectively if diagnosed at an early stage.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma symptoms are difficult to spot as they are very comparable to pneumonia. It is important for a doctor to ask a patient if he has a history of being exposed to asbestos related materials. Early diagnosis can prolong life and improve the chances of survival. The main symptoms of mesothelioma are:
• Shortness of breath, especially during exercise
• Chest pain
• A feeling of tightness in the chest.
Other symptoms that sometimes occur are vomiting, nausea, nail abnormalities, constipation or diarrhea and clubbing of the fingers.
If someone is in the unfortunate position to be suffering from mesothelioma cancer they are likely to be offered a choice of treatments, which will be dependent on several factors relating to the patients age and general health, the stage of the disease, and the particular area of the cancer.
There are three main types of mesothelioma cancer treatments offered to the patient:
If the chosen course of action is chemotherapy then this relies on using high-strength drugs in an attempt to kill off the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is administrated via a needle direct into a muscle or vein or taken in pill form. On entering the body, the chemotherapy drug is designed to enter the bloodstream and pass throughout the entire body and kill any of the cancerous cells that it makes contact with.
When it has been decided that surgery might be the most effective course of treatment, a patient will have this procedure performed in order to remove the cancerous cells from the body. The part of the body suffering with the cancerous cells is likely to be removed along with any necessary tissue in the surrounding areas. In situations where the cancer has started to spread, for instance it is starting to impact the lungs; it might be necessary for a pneumonectomy to be performed, which is the surgical procedure of removing one of the lungs. In the process of the surgery, the surgeons will attempt to remove all signs of the cancerous growths if at all possible.
The last option in relation to mesothelioma cancer treatment is radiation therapy and this is a process of using a range of high energy rays to help in shrinking and killing off the cancerous cells. A patient has a choice of either internal or external radiation therapy, with each choice being highly effective in what it needs to do in shrinking the tumors. Internal radiation therapy is a process of placing thin plastic tubes inside the body in order to direct the high-energy x-rays on to the tumors, whereas with the external radiation therapy, a machine will direct the x-rays on the outside of the body.
Beyond receiving just one type of treatment, many patients are offered a combination of the above mentioned therapies in order to help kill or slow the growth of the cancerous sounds. This combined treatment is referred to as multimodal therapy. Even though there isn’t a cure for this form of cancer, if a patient is able to receive the right treatment at an early stage it can go a long way to improving on a person’s lung function and reducing pain.