The most commonly seen symptoms of mesothelioma are difficulty in breathing or chest pain. Sometimes a patient may not have mesothelioma symptoms when they are diagnosed. Some less common symptoms include loss of weight, high fever, night sweats, coughing, and a feeling of not being well. Mesothelioma symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma may include swelling, pain due to fluid in the abdomen cavity, sudden weight loss, and a mass in the abdomen. Other mesothelioma symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma may include bowel obstruction, blood clotting abnormalities, lowered red blood cell count, and high fever.
Mesothelioma symptoms do not develop until 20-50 years after exposure to what caused it. The average age at which symptoms usually begin to appear is around 60 years old. It is estimated that about 3,000 to 4,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the US. The number of cases reported each year is increasing. Among men 55 years and older, a possible reason for the current increase in diagnosed cases is due to asbestos use in their work environment. Since the 1930’s, asbestos has been used primarily in factories, shipyards, and other industrial settings. For more, see Symptoms
Mesothelioma is a very rare form of lung cancer that starts in the mesothelium. The mesothelium is made up of parietal and visceral membranes, thin layers of tissue, which surround organs and body cavities, such as the lungs or abdomen. The visceral membrane immediately surrounds the organ, and the parietal membrane is a sac covering the visceral membrane.
Many occupations have an increased mesothelioma risk for developing lung cancer. For example, asbestos insulation workers have 92 times the risk of developing of lung cancer, and smelter workers have 3-8 times the risk of developing lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer is also increased in people who work in the manufacturing of certain industrial gases, pharmaceuticals, soaps and detergents, paints, inorganic pigments, plastics, and synthetic rubber.
The visceral and parietal membranes that make up the mesothelium. This fluid helps organs move easily among surrounding structures. In the case of the lung, it helps reduce friction between the lung and chest wall during normal breathing as the lung expands. The most common place for mesothelioma to develop is in the mesothelial membrane, also called the pleural lining, surrounding the lungs.
It can be difficult to diagnose mesothelioma because many of the mesothelioma symptoms are similar to those of a number of other conditions, including lung cancer and other types of cancers. At the time of diagnosis, your doctor will first do a physical examination and complete a medical history, including asking about the possibility of prior exposure to asbestos. For more, see Diagnosis
Although there is no early detection test for mesothelioma, there are several tests that can be used to help in making the diagnosis of mesothelioma, including a chest x-ray, a CT scan, or an MRI scan. A chest x-ray yields an image of the lungs that will show many types of abnormal changes. A CT scan is a type of x-ray, but it uses a computer rather than film to create detailed images. An MRI scan uses magnetism, radio waves, and a computer but does not utilize radiation to create a clear image. These tests help your doctor differentiate mesothelioma from other lung tumors as well as determine where the tumor is and its size.
Your mesothelioma doctor may need to remove a tissue sample from the tumor or draw fluid from it to confirm it to confirm the diagnosis. This can be done in several ways. The simplest way to obtain tissue samples involving making a small incision and placing a flexible tube in the area of the tumor. This is called a thoracoscopy if it is done in the chest area. A laparoscopy is the same procedure but done in the abdominal cavity. A tube that is that is attached to a video camera is placed so that the doctor can look inside the body. A tissue sample may be taken at the same time.
Sometimes a more extensive mesothelioma surgical procedure may be advisable. A thoracotomy can be done to open the chest to take a tissue sample and, if feasible, to remove most or all of the visible tumor.
At other times, a mediastinoscopy may be done in which a very small incision is made just above the sternum (breastbone) and a tube inserted just behind the breastbone. This lets the doctors look at lymph nodes. This is small, bean-shaped structures that are an important part of the body’s immune system, and they contain cells that help your body fight infection as well as cancer.
This mesothelioma test will give the doctor more information on the type of cancer and whether it has spread to other areas. The tissue samples taken in these procedures are analyzed by looking at them under a microscope in order to determine whether the tumor is a mesothelioma or some other type of cancer.
Stage I, Mesothelioma is present in the right or left pleura and may also involve the diaphragm on the same side. Stage II, Mesothelioma invades the chest wall or involves the esophagus, heart, or pleura on both sides. Lymph nodes in the chest may also be involved. Stage III, Mesothelioma has penetrated through the diaphragm into the lining of the abdominal cavity or peritoneum. Lymph nodes beyond those in the chest may also be involved. Stage IV, There is evidence of metastasis or spread through the bloodstream to other organs.
It was not until 1973 that workplaces began reducing asbestos exposure. The cases now being seen have developed many years after a worker’s first exposure to asbestos back in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Asbestos is the major cause of mesothelioma in the United States. Asbestos is a mineral that occurs as a long thin fiber in the environment.
Until the 1980’s, when asbestos was banned due to its health dangers, asbestos had been used in many industrial and insulation materials as a fire retardant. Some of the jobs in which people have been exposed to or in asbestos directly are those that involve factory work, demolition, insulation, shipbuilding, carpentry, installation of brake linings in vehicles, and many others. Many public and private buildings still contain asbestos today. Personnel who remove asbestos from such structures or work around asbestos are required to wear personal equipment to lower their risk of exposure. So jobs and things that put you in danger of mesothelioma:
Miners and drillmen
Offshore rust removals
Manufactured asbestos products
Oil refinery workers
Sheet metal workers
Dry wall workers
United States Navy veterans
The risk of developing mesothelioma lung cancer is related to the amount of exposure to the cancer-causing agent. The risk of lung cancer is greater for those living in urban areas. This risk is approximately 1.2 to 2.3 times that of people living in rural areas. There is also an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers whose close relatives have had lung cancer. Scarring in the lungs from previous infections or injury can be associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Asbestos is inhaled into the lungs and typically the family member is exposed to asbestos dust or fibers from the worker’s clothing, and when the exposure to clothing is handled the dust is released and inhaled. Family members that are exposed in this way, may be smaller amounts but are still very much at risk. In the same way, those that have homes or work near facilities that have asbestos may also be at risk even though there is no obvious direct contact. The fine asbestos dust can easily be carried by the wind over long distances.
Treatment for Mesothelioma is various as to how much or how bad you have it. Most patients with stage I mesothelioma have their cancer surgically removed by pleurectomy/ decortication or extrapleural pneumonectomy. The treatments given after surgery for stage I mesothelioma is uncertain. For more, see Mesothelioma Treatment Options
Stages II, III Mesothelioma: Treatment options include palliative and supportive care providing relief of symptoms, to remove fluid accumulation in the chest cavity, operations to remove as much of the tumor as possible in some cases, and radiation therapy or chemotherapy aimed at easing symptoms. The cure is not possible in these stages. Enrollment in clinical trials evaluating the newest treatment possibilities in large medical centers should be considered.
Stage IV Mesothelioma: Because stage IV mesothelioma cancer has spread to distant organs, a cure is not possible. If any aggressive therapy is used, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the goals should be clear to the patient and family. Enrollment in clinical trials evaluating the newest treatment possibilities in large medical centers should be considered. See more on the Stages of Mesothelioma.
Supportive care may be the best choice, perhaps in the setting of a good hospice program. Pain management is an important aspect of patient care. It is important for patients to know that medications are available to effectively treat pain due to mesothelioma. Patients should not hesitate to request pain medications or discuss pain control problems with their cancer care team.