What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that arises in the mesothelium, a thin layer of tissue that lines the chest and abdomen. The disease is caused by exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that was once widely used in a variety of industrial and construction applications. Asbestosis, a condition characterized by scarring of the lungs, is also caused by asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer with a poor prognosis.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Symptoms of mesothelioma typically do not appear until 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure. The most common symptoms of mesothelioma include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
- Pleural effusion (fluid buildup around the lungs)
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty swallowing
Diagnosis of Mesothelioma
Diagnosing mesothelioma can be challenging because the symptoms are often nonspecific and can be mistaken for other conditions. The following tests and procedures may be used to diagnose mesothelioma:
- Chest X-ray: A chest X-ray can show signs of pleural effusion or other abnormalities that may suggest mesothelioma.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan provides more detailed images of the chest and abdomen than an X-ray and can help to identify tumors or other abnormalities.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A PET scan can help to identify cancerous cells by detecting areas of increased metabolic activity.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is the definitive way to diagnose mesothelioma. During a biopsy, a small sample of tissue is removed from the lining of the chest or abdomen and examined under a microscope.
Treatment for Mesothelioma
There is no cure for mesothelioma, but there are treatments that can help to relieve symptoms and extend life. Treatment options for mesothelioma include:
- Surgery: Surgery may be used to remove tumors, drain fluid from the lungs, or alleviate symptoms such as pain or shortness of breath.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a type of drug therapy that uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
Prognosis for Mesothelioma
The prognosis for mesothelioma is poor, with an average survival time of 12 to 18 months. However, some people with mesothelioma may live for several years or even longer.
Prevention of Mesothelioma
The best way to prevent mesothelioma is to avoid exposure to asbestos. Asbestos was banned in the United States in 1989, but it is still found in many older buildings and products. If you work in a job that could expose you to asbestos, such as construction or demolition, it is important to take precautions to protect yourself, such as wearing a respirator and following safety regulations.
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or have concerns about asbestos exposure, there are a number of resources available to help you. The following organizations provide information and support to mesothelioma patients and their families:
- The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com
- The Mesothelioma Action Network
- The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization
- The American Cancer Society
Mesothelioma is a serious and debilitating disease, but there is hope for patients. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for improving the chances of survival. If you have been exposed to asbestos, it is important to see a doctor regularly to monitor for signs of mesothelioma.