Mesothelioma is a relatively rare cancer commonly affecting older people, especially those working in places exposed to asbestos.
The American Cancer Society estimates that around 3,000 new mesothelioma cases are diagnosed annually in the United States.
One way for doctors to determine the appropriate treatment is to examine the individual and determine the stage of the disease. Mesothelioma stages indicate how the disease has spread significantly.
What is mesothelioma, and what causes this disease? What about its symptoms? Is there a treatment for mesothelioma? How can someone support a person with mesothelioma?
This article discusses mesothelioma and its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. The write-up also provides information on how to support individuals with such a disease.
Asbestos exposure is often the leading cause of mesothelioma. Exposure to this material accounts for around 80% of all mesothelioma cases.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Its fibers are strong and have high heat resistance. These features make this material useful for various applications.
The mineral fiber is mostly used in building construction materials for insulation, manufactured goods like flooring and shingles, and friction products like brakes.
When asbestos breaks up, it produces dust that, if inhaled or swallowed, can settle in the lungs or stomach, causing irritation that can lead to mesothelioma. The particles of this material can also travel on skin and clothing.
Factors that increase mesothelioma risk include:
- Asbestos exposure history: Individuals directly exposed to asbestos fibers at work or home have a significantly increased mesothelioma risk.
- Living with someone working with asbestos: People regularly exposed to asbestos can carry the fibers on their clothing and skin. When exposed for many years, the stray fibers can put others at home at risk of mesothelioma.
- Family history: Individuals whose parent, child, or sibling has mesothelioma have an increased risk of getting the disease.
- Chest radiation therapy: Patients who undergo radiation therapy for cancer in the chest may develop mesothelioma.
An individual with mesothelioma may experience symptoms depending on where cancer occurs.
Pleural mesothelioma, affecting the tissues around the lungs, have the following symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Painful coughing
- Abnormal lumps under the skin of the chest
- Unexplained weight loss
For peritoneal mesothelioma occurring in the abdomen tissue, the signs and symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Unexplained weight loss
Other mesothelioma types, such as pericardial mesothelioma affecting the heart tissues, can cause breathing difficulty and chest pains.
Meanwhile, tunica vaginalis mesothelioma affecting the tissues surrounding the testicles can appear as swelling on the affected area.
Because mesothelioma is often an aggressive and incurable cancer, doctors consider the prognosis for this disease inadequate.
The American Cancer Society places the five-year survival rate for pleural mesothelioma patients at 12%. This figure means that an individual with mesothelioma has a 12% likelihood of surviving for at least five years after diagnosis.
Aside from statistics, the following factors help determine one’s mesothelioma prognosis:
- Survival rates: These rates measure how long most people can live with mesothelioma.
- Life expectancy: This term is the expected average age an individual or population will live based on their location and demographics.
- Mortality rate: This rate describes how many people die from a particular disease. Elements that define mesothelioma mortality rates include the individual’s age, gender, residence, and race.
Common treatments for mesothelioma include:
- Surgery: This operation may remove mesothelioma diagnosed at an early stage. In some cases, surgery may cure the disease.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Systemic chemotherapy may help shrink or slow the growth of mesothelioma that surgery cannot remove.
Patients can undergo neoadjuvant chemotherapy (before surgery) to make an operation easier. Another option is to receive adjuvant chemotherapy (after surgery) to lower the chance of the cancer returning.
- Radiation therapy: This therapy utilizes high-energy beams like X-rays and protons and targets a specific spot on the body to kill any remaining cancer cells, especially after surgery.
Radiation therapy may also help reduce advanced cancer symptoms when surgery is unavailable.
Some hospitals have the treatments mentioned above available. However, it is still impossible for many individuals with mesothelioma to cure the disease.
Individuals receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis can become emotionally or mentally affected. The news can affect their family and friends as well.
The following actions can help provide support for individuals with mesothelioma:
- Learning about mesothelioma: Individuals should be encouraged to ask their doctor or health care team to understand mesothelioma better and make informed decisions about their care.
The American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, and Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation also provide helpful information about mesothelioma and other cancers.
- Establishing a support network: Family or friends are an essential source of help with everyday tasks for the individual with mesothelioma. These tasks include scheduling appointments or getting treatment.
A support network allows the individual to ask for and accept help when needed.
- Forming connections with other people with cancer: Individuals with mesothelioma can join cancer support groups in the community. Such connections are helpful, especially when one needs to ask questions only people with cancer can answer.
Online support forums or message boards, such as the Cancer Survivors Network, provide an opportunity to interact with these individuals while allowing the person to remain anonymous.
- Planning for the future: The patient or individual should consider asking their health care team about advance directives. These directives can help guide the family to carry out the individual’s medical wishes in case they can no longer speak for themself.
Mesothelioma is a life-changing disease that can affect individuals with this condition and other people around them. For more information about mesothelioma and other cancer types, individuals can contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit its website at Cancer.org.
- Key Statistics About Malignant Mesothelioma
- Mesothelioma: Symptoms & Causes
- Causes of Mesothelioma
- Survival Rates for Mesothelioma
- Mesothelioma: Diagnosis & Treatment