Malignant mesothelioma is a type of cancer that forms in the thin layer of tissue surrounding some of the most vital organs. Most often, it occurs around the lungs or in the abdomen. Mesothelioma affecting the heart or the testicle tissue is much more uncommon.
Understanding this malignant condition and its symptoms is incredibly important for early diagnosis and a more effective management of the cancer.
Exposure to asbestos is by far the most prominent cause of malignant mesothelioma. The exposure should typically continue over a longer period of time for the condition to develop, the National Cancer Institute reports. After asbestos exposure, it would take about 20 years for this type of cancer to develop. This is one of the main reasons why mesothelioma tends to be most common among older people.
According to the American Cancer Society, the median age of mesothelioma diagnosis is 69. Due to reduced asbestos exposure and elimination of asbestos from buildings, the condition is becoming increasingly rare. Approximately 3,000 new cases are diagnosed per year (0.02 percent of all cancers), which is a massive reduction from the mesothelioma rates in the 1970s and the 1990s.
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma begin appearing after the disease has progressed. Many stage I and II patients may have no symptoms whatsoever or the symptoms can be confused with those of a common minor condition.
Pleural mesothelioma (the one affecting the lungs) could have a wide array of symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, excessive fatigue, chest pain, hoarseness, edema, trouble swallowing and inexplicable weight loss. Peritoneal mesothelioma is characterized by pain in the abdomen, swelling, fluid accumulation in the belly region, vomiting, nausea, constipation and weight loss.
A physical exam will be required for a proper diagnosis. A physician will also need the patient’s medical history. Pleural mesothelioma is often diagnosed due to fluid buildup in the chest region. Imaging tests like X-raying or MRI will be required to see if there’s any fluid retention or a cancerous mass.
Once a doctor has a good idea about the location of the cancer and its stage, the most adequate treatment or management option will be chosen.
There are three common treatment options for this kind of cancer – chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. Very often, oncologists will recommend more than one treatment due to the aggressive nature of mesothelioma. The condition is difficult to treat because it doesn’t involve a single tumor. Rather, it tends to spread quickly on nearby tissues and surfaces.
New therapies are being developed all the time and today, mesothelioma sufferers could choose to join a clinical trial or go for a more aggressive type of treatment. Extrapleural pneumonectomy (a removal of the lung, some of the diaphragm or some of the lung’s lining) is proving to be an effective therapy for pleural mesothelioma. This aggressive surgery can lead to a serious increase in a patient’s lifespan, especially if the condition gets diagnosed during an earlier stage.
Mesothelioma is a difficult to treat type of cancer, which is why patients will need a lot of support. Having an honest discussion with an experienced oncologist is the first step towards coming up with a viable plan for the future. Social workers and nurses can also provide a lot of information about coping with cancer, joining a clinical trial or opting for alternative medicinal practices that may contribute to symptom relief.