Asbestos and Malignant Mesothelioma
Asbestos is a highly durable—and highly dangerous—construction material. Asbestos is made up of microscopic fibers which enter the body through inhalation or ingestion. Once inside, the asbestos fibers can cause irritation for decades because they do not decompose.
Continuous irritation from asbestos fibers leads to cellular mutations and mesothelioma. Symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear until decades after the initial exposure because it takes years of damage to mutate the cells.
Mesothelioma is not as prominent as other cancers, but it presents extreme dangers. The symptoms build slowly, so mesothelioma can go undetected for months or even years. Since early symptoms are similar to more common and milder diseases, many people get misdiagnosed.
These mistakes prove deadly, as early detection of mesothelioma can greatly expand your lifespan. Knowing common symptoms and the hallmark signs of each mesothelioma form will help you and your doctor determine whether you have mesothelioma.
Types of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma exists in many different forms, which are classified by where they appear in the body. Pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma account for most cases. The disease also has a few notable subforms like pericardial mesothelioma.
To diagnose mesothelioma, doctors must learn your health history and current symptoms. Any history of asbestos exposure can make or break a diagnosis. If a doctor suspects you have mesothelioma, they will order X-ray scans and biopsies (tissue samples) of the area in question.
By understanding where and when your mesothelioma started, doctors can give you a formal diagnosis. Then, they can provide a prognosis of your disease and develop effective treatment plans based on your specific circumstances. Though there is currently no cure for mesothelioma, a combination of treatments can help you live a healthy life for as long as possible.
Pleural mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs. As the most common form of mesothelioma, it accounts for 75 to 80 percent of all cases diagnosed each year. Doctors believe pleural mesothelioma is the most prominent form of the cancer because asbestos fibers can easily be inhaled.
Early symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include a persistent cough, fluid buildup in the lungs, difficulties when eating or breathing and the development of lumps underneath the skin. Painful tumors build up in the body as the cancer progresses.
Pleural mesothelioma is the only form of the disease to have stages. Mesothelioma is contained to the main lung system in early stages. In later stages, the cancer spreads to other areas of the body. Surgery to remove infected tissue and tumors can greatly slow the disease’s progression.
Though most patients get diagnosed in the later stages, any treatment can greatly increase your chances of a prolonged survival and even remission of the cancer. In addition to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation also significantly help slow the disease.
Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the chest that protects the abdominal organs. It is the second most prominent form of the disease. When asbestos fibers are ingested, they may get lodged in the digestive tract and cause damage for years. This mesothelioma type accounts for 10 to 20 percent of all cases diagnosed each year.
Abdominal pain and swelling are the most prominent symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma. Additional symptoms include a loss of appetite, weight loss, diarrhea and/or constipation. As tumors grow in the abdomen, the swelling and other symptoms worsen.
According to leading medical experts, peritoneal mesothelioma is the easiest type of mesothelioma to treat. If the cancer has not advanced significantly, it will respond well to surgeries and other treatments. A combination of cytoreductive surgery (which removes or shrinks cancerous tumors) and heated chemotherapy can prolong your life.
Pericardial mesothelioma develops in the lining around the heart. This form of mesothelioma accounts for approximately 1 percent of all annual cases, but it presents similar dangers. Because of its rarity, doctors do not fully understand how pericardial mesothelioma develops or how asbestos fibers reach the lining of the heart.
Common symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma include a chronic cough, chest pain, shortness of breath and heart irregularities (including heart murmurs). The buildup of pericardial fluid in the heart worsens these symptoms over time.
Doctors are still working on a unified treatment plan for pericardial mesothelioma. However, multiple treatments can significantly slow the cancer’s progression. Surgery to remove infected parts of the pericardium, along with chemotherapy medications, can slow the disease and increase your lifespan.
Mesothelioma Types and You
If you believe you have mesothelioma, set up an appointment with a mesothelioma doctor as soon as possible. By discussing your symptoms and medical history with a medical professional, they can provide a formal diagnosis and administer life-saving treatments. The longer you wait, the faster the undiagnosed mesothelioma can spread through your body.