What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure. This asbestos-related disease attacks the inner lining of organs, which is called the mesothelium. Internal organs that are normally attacked are the lungs, abdomen, heart and testicles. It usually takes anywhere between 20-50 years for mesothelioma to develop.

There is no cure for mesothelioma, and only around 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year. The most common type of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which develops on the lining of the lungs. The other types, pericardial mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma and testicular mesothelioma, are less common.

During the 1970s and 80s, our nation began to regulate asbestos use, but we are still finding asbestos in buildings, pipes, ships and military installations throughout our nation and the world. People are still being exposed to asbestos, and individuals still are being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Early on, treating mesothelioma was very difficult and the outlook was grim, but new medications, surgical procedures and technology provide favorable treatment options for mesothelioma patients, which may dramatically increase their life spans.

What Causes Mesothelioma?

Asbestos exposure is the cause of mesothelioma. Such exposure typically occurred in the workplace or residence. Since the latency period (how long it takes) of mesothelioma is so long, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment that you inhaled asbestos. People who were exposed over long periods of time were more likely to develop mesothelioma than those who were not.

The most dangerous time for asbestos exposure is when asbestos is disturbed. During such a disruption, asbestos fibers and dust enter the air, where they are easily inhaled. Constantly being exposed for decades at your job increases your chances of developing mesothelioma.

What are the Types of Mesothelioma?

There are four types of mesothelioma cancer.

Pleural Mesothelioma
This type of mesothelioma is the most common and accounts for almost 75 percent of all mesothelioma cases. This asbestos cancer attacks the lining of the lungs.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma
This type of mesothelioma is the second-most-common and accounts for almost 20 percent of all mesothelioma cases. This asbestos cancer attacks the lining of the abdomen.

Pericardial Mesothelioma
This type of mesothelioma is extremely rare and accounts for a small percentage of cases. This asbestos cancer attacks the lining of the heart.

Testicular Mesothelioma
This type of mesothelioma is the rarest and accounts for less than 1 percent of all mesothelioma cases. This asbestos cancer attacks the lining of the testicles.

What are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

The symptoms of mesothelioma in the early stages are almost unrecognizable. This does not bode well for patients because the cancer is allowed to grow and spread through the body. As mesothelioma advances in stages, the symptoms become more prevalent and painful.

Mesothelioma patients can begin to feel the following symptoms:

  • Sluggishness
  • Tumor Pain
  • Loss of Weight
  • Bloated with Fluid
  • Trouble Breathing
  • Obstruction of Bowels
  • Painful Cough
  • Trouble Swallowing

How Do You Diagnose Mesothelioma?

Diagnosing mesothelioma is very difficult. The disease is commonly misdiagnosed because it is so rare and many physicians are unsure what type of cancer it may be. If you know that you were exposed to asbestos, then it is important to explain this to your physician. If you are not getting the answers you need, then you may want to seek a mesothelioma specialist.

Physicians usually will order X-Rays, CT Scans or PET Scans along with a biopsy to determine the type and stage of cancer. These scans, along with your personal history of asbestos exposure, will guide them in making your diagnosis of what type and what stage of mesothelioma you may be experiencing. The biopsy will have the clearest answer regarding your mesothelioma type and stage. A pathologist will analyze the tumor sample and give an exact answer identifying your mesothelioma cancer type.

What are the Four Stages of Mesothelioma?

Diagnosing your cancer as mesothelioma is one step in the process, but determining the stage of your cancer also will impact how you can treat your mesothelioma. Stages of cancer are designated at Stage I, Stage II, Stage III or Stage IV. Below is a description of each stage of mesothelioma cancer.

  • STAGE I
    Catching mesothelioma, or any type of cancer, early allows you to have the best prognosis. Since mesothelioma is very rare and not many oncologists have ever diagnosed mesothelioma, diagnosing mesothelioma in Stage I is very rare.
  • STAGE II
    At this stage, mesothelioma is localized and has not spread to other parts of the body. Mesothelioma diagnosed at this stage allows the patient to have multiple options for treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
  • STAGE III
    At this stage, mesothelioma has spread to other parts of the body. Treatment options are limited, but surgery, chemotherapy and radiation still may be an option.
  • STAGE IV
    At this stage, mesothelioma has spread throughout the body and organs are negatively impacted. The treatment options are very limited.
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