Mesothelioma as the name indicates, is a severe form of cancer that is caused by asbestos. It is known to occur most commonly in the linings of the lungs or in the abdominal region. For diagnosed patients with this severe form of cancer, studies have proven that the average life expectancy is 18 – 31 months after diagnosis. Although with a very good treatment, prognosis may improve.
Some Common Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Based on research and discoveries, Mesothelioma symptoms take up to 10 – 50 years to emerge after there have been an internal exposure to asbestos. In most cases, these symptoms are often mistaken for less serious illnesses, and this can really complicate early diagnosis.
When such symptoms as these present themselves, patients are advised to seek medical attention as soon as possible. This is due to the fact that early detection of the disease can improve prognosis on the Mesothelioma.
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Physically obvious weight loss
- Unexplainable regular fatigue
- Fluid buildup
Causes of Mesothelioma
Research has shown over the years that the only definitive cause of Mesothelioma is Asbestos. When Asbestos fibers is inhaled or ingested by the body, they may become embedded in the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdominal region. The fibers then cause inflammation and scarring over time. At that point, the irritation can eventually lead to the development of Mesothelioma tumors.
Who is at risk of developing The Disease?
No matter how little it may seem to be ingested or inhaled, any amount of asbestos exposure can lead directly to Mesothelioma. However, workers in certain occupational fields may experience higher rates of exposure to the disease. Also, loved ones and close family members of these exposed workers may face higher risk because of second-handed exposure.
High-risk Occupations: On the job, workers may get exposed to asbestos. Such high risk occupations include; shipyard workers, mechanics and machine operators in factories.
Second-hand Exposure: On workers’ hair, skin, or clothing, Asbestos may be brought back home, thereby exposing loved ones to the fibers.
Veterans: Throughout the military, asbestos was widely used, thereby exposing Navy, Air force, and Army veterans, amongst others, to the fibers.
Individuals diagnosed with Mesothelioma may also be eligible for financial compensation coming from asbestos manufacturers. The high cost of treatment that many Mesothelioma victims face is being offset by the help from this financial assistance.
Types of Mesothelioma
Based on the location of the tumor, there are four (4) main types of Mesothelioma, with the malignant pleural mesothelioma being the most common type. These tumors of the mesothelioma are made up of different cell types.
According to research and studies, three most common of the mesothelioma cell types are the epithelioid, the sarcomatoid, and the biphasic cells.
- The Pleural Mesothelioma – This type develops in the lining of the lungs. It is the most common type of the cancerous disease, accounting for 80 – 90% of all diagnosis.
- The Peritoneal Mesothelioma –This type is the one that develops in the lining of the abdomen. It is actually the second most common form of the cancerous disease. The peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for about 15 – 20% of all diagnosis, based on research by health organizations.
- The Pericardial Mesothelioma – The lining of the heart is where this type develops. It is a form of the cancerous disease that happens to be extremely rare, accounting for less than 5% of all mesothelioma diagnosis.
- The Testicular Mesothelioma – This type is the one that develops in the lining of the testicles. This is the rarest form of the cancerous disease, as it accounts for less than 1% of all diagnosed cases. Studies have shown that patients with this type of the mesothelioma disease have more favorable life expectancy than patients with the other forms of it.
After symptoms have been recognized, doctors will usually perform a series of tests and procedures to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis for the patient. Research has shown that the only way to definitively diagnose mesothelioma is Biopsies. Other diagnostic tools may only help to determine the location and stage of the Cancerous disease.
Once the diagnosis of the mesothelioma is confirmed, doctors will then usually classify the disease into one of the four stages. It is the staging that will then help to determine prognosis and needed treatment options.
Stages of the Mesothelioma
Studies have shown that patients who are still at the stage 1 or 2 have more treatment options available to them. By the time this disease gets to the stage 3 or 4, the available treatment options for such patient becomes generally more limited, as the cancer would have spread by then.
- Stage 1: At stage one, the cancer is still localized and aggressive treatment options, including surgery, are still viable. The average life expectancy in this case is usually around 21 months based on research.
- Stage 2: At stage two, the cancerous cells have spread to nearby organs and lymph nodes making aggressive treatment options a bit difficult, but still viable. Studies have shown that the life expectancy in this case or situation is usually around 19 months.
- Stage 3: At this stage of the disease, the cancerous cells continue to spread more deeply to nearby organs and tissues. The treatment option at this stage become more limited and the average life expectancy then is around 16 months.
- Stage 4: This stage is the most difficult of them due to the fact that the cancerous cells would have spread deeply and across major organs and tissues in the body. At this point palliative care may ease the symptoms. Based on findings, the average life expectancy at this point is around 12 months.
Prognosis on Mesothelioma
A patient’s mesothelioma prognosis is determined with the help of the tumor location, staging, and cell type. The prognosis will always vary in different individuals, due to this and other factors. Mesothelioma doctors may also mention the life expectancy and survival rates as related terms when discussing the prognosis of a patient. Based on research and findings, the average life expectancy regardless of the type of mesothelioma, is usually within 18 – 31 months.
Definition of terms used
- Prognosis: This refers to an estimate of how the disease in an individual is expected to progress and develop over time, along with the likelihood of survival for such a person.
- Life Expectancy: This refers to the duration of time a patient with the disease is expected to survive with or without treatment of any kind. Depending on the treatment and the body’s response to treatment, this can change along the line.
- Survival Rate: This is a statistic figure based on research (percentage or ratio), indicating the amount of people that have lived a certain amount of time after diagnosis.
Point to note: Studies and research has shown that patients with mesothelioma who undergo some form of treatment may live at least two times as long as patients who do not receive treatment at all. Such studies suggest that the average life expectancy of patients who do not undergo treatment is around just six months. While those who undergo some form of medical treatment may survive up to a year or more.
Some patients with these cancerous cells in their body system are able to outlive their prognosis by months or even years. There is a case of a lady who was given 15 months at the time of diagnosis, but she has outlived her prognosis by 16 years as a survivor. And there are many more of such cases, hence the very importance of treatment and consulting experts in the field.
Treatment of the Mesothelioma
For this cancerous disease standard treatment includes chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. A multimodal approach which combines two or more standard treatment options is the most common option for the treatment. Over time, it has been observed that this combining of treatment options has proven to increase the survival time of patients. Through clinical trials, mesothelioma doctors have also been researching on new treatments.
- Chemotherapy: The standard first-line chemotherapy is cisplatin or carboplatin with pemetrexed for mesothelioma patients.
- Surgery: For early stages of the cancer, aggressive surgeries are often used. But in later stages like 3 and 4, surgery may be used palliatively.
- Radiation: Radiation for mesothelioma is of two (2) types; the External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT) and the Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT).
- New Therapies: Through clinical trials by scientists in this field, new therapies are being tested. Immunotherapy and Gene therapy are being included in the Experimental therapies for mesothelioma.
Finding Treatment for the Mesothelioma
The mesothelioma happens to be rare so many doctors do not have the needed experience for its treatment. It is advised that patients should only seek care from a doctor who specializes in mesothelioma. For patients that may extend survival, doctors can develop personalized treatment plans with special care.
Some Common Questions People Ask About Mesothelioma
Q: Is Mesothelioma treatable?
A: There are treatment options available, including Chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy that helps patients with this disease to stay healthy and live longer.
Q: What are the most common symptoms of Mesothelioma?
A: Symptoms vary based on type as the case may be, but usually commonly includes coughing, chest pain, abdominal pain, shortness of breath and fluid buildup.
Q: What is the main cause of Mesothelioma?
A: Exposure to Asbestos is the only known cause of malignant mesothelioma presently.
Q: Is this Mesothelioma a form of cancer?
A: The malignant mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that attacks organs in the body. There are different types of the mesothelioma which includes peritoneal and pleural mesothelioma.
Q: What type of cancer is Mesothelioma?
A: The Mesothelium or thin linings covering organs such as the abdomen, the lungs or the heart, is affected by Mesothelioma.
Always do well to consult your doctor if you discover any of the symptoms.