What Is Mesothelioma?

What Is Mesothelioma?

Each year some 3,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer usually associated with exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma tumors occur in the thin membranes that line the lungs, abdomen or heart. A diagnosis of mesothelioma is very serious. Although many cases are fatal within two years, early diagnosis and proper treatment can often lead to a better quality of life and extended survival.

Mesothelioma Symptoms

Symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath, a chronic cough, chest and back pain, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and weight loss. Other symptoms may include weakness, abdominal pain and nausea. Mesothelioma can occur as the result of very low levels of exposure to asbestos fibers. It often takes several decades for signs of the disease to surface.

Mesothelioma Diagnosis

The diagnosis of mesothelioma is usually made by a pathological review of tissue taken from the tumor. Pathologists use a series of immunohistochemical stains to distinguish between mesothelioma and other types of cancer.

When detected early enough and treated by an oncologist with experience treating mesothelioma, a patient’s prognosis may be much better than the average. Early detection is vital. Treatment protocols used for mesothelioma include chemotherapy, surgical removal of tumor, and post-surgical radiation.

Types of Mesothelioma:

Pleural Mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining of the lung

Peritoneal Mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining of the abdominal cavity

Pericardial Mesothelioma, which occurs lining of the heart

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form, followed by peritoneal mesothelioma. Pericardial mesothelioma is exceptionally rare.

Histological Types of Mesothelioma:

There are three main histological types of mesothelioma:

Epithelioid Mesothelioma, the most common type of mesothelioma accounting for the majority of diagnosis, with malignancy usually starting in the lungs.

Sarcomatoid, the least commonly diagnosed type of mesothelioma, malignancy often occurring in other internal body organs besides the lungs

Mixed / Biphasic Mesothelioma, the second largest type, as the name implies, biphasic is a mixture of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cancers

What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

The symptoms of mesothelioma can resemble the symptoms of other illnesses and diseases, especially in the early stages of disease. Mesothelioma also has what is called a long latency period, meaning that symptoms of mesothelioma often don’t occur until years after exposure to asbestos, the primary cause of mesothelioma. In most cases, this latency period is twenty years or longer. This can make correctly diagnosing the symptoms of mesothelioma difficult. Since the earlier this disease is caught, the better it responds to treatment, those who believe they may be at risk should be aware of the early symptoms of mesothelioma.

Symptoms for All Types of Mesothelioma

Since every individual is different, not all victims of this disease will experience the same symptoms of mesothelioma. However, studies have shown that most mesothelioma patients do have some early warning signs in common:

Anemia (a lower than normal amount of hemoglobin, or red blood cells)

Coughing up blood (called hemoptysis)

Rapid weight loss, especially if unexplained or unintended

Shortness of breath, which may gradually worsen

Symptoms similar to pneumonia, such as chest pain, persistent cough, etc.

Since these symptoms can be misdiagnosed as other illnesses, people who believe they may have been exposed to asbestos materials that can cause mesothelioma should be sure to inform their treating physician.

Symptoms for Specific Types of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma can affect any part of the body, but it most frequently develops in one of three forms: pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the lungs; peritoneal mesothelioma, which occurs in the abdomen; and pericardial mesothelioma, which forms on the heart. Of these, pleural mesothelioma is the most common, but since all three forms have the same cause, those who have been exposed should be vigilant if they experience any of the symptoms of mesothelioma related to the different types of asbestos cancer.

Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma

Pain in the lower back or the side of the chest

Difficulty swallowing

Lasting cough

Recurring fever

Symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Abdominal pain

Bloating that does not ease, or steadily gets worse

Recurring nausea and vomiting

Symptoms of Pericardial Mesothelioma

Chest pain (can be mild or severe)

Heart palpitations

Acute fatigue after exercise

What to Do If You Have Symptoms

Individuals who are experiencing one or more symptoms of mesothelioma should contact their doctor immediately. Regular screenings can help increase the chances of an early diagnosis and improve the outlook for mesothelioma victims. Those who may have been exposed to asbestos, whether at their place of work or at home from the clothes or belongings of a loved one who was exposed, should let their physicians know that they have a history of asbestos exposure. If symptoms of mesothelioma are appearing, it’s important not to wait. This disease can progress rapidly, and the earlier symptoms are recognized, the sooner mesothelioma treatments to slow down the tumor progression can begin.

If you have a history of prior exposure to asbestos make sure to educate yourself about the symptoms of mesothelioma, and make sure that your physicians are aware of your prior exposure.