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Mesothelioma Cancer

Mesothelioma cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the cells of the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a membrane that covers and protects certain internal organs of the body, such as the lungs, heart and the stomach. Mesothelioma cancer occurs when malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the mesothelium. Mesothelioma cancer is both a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Mesothelioma cancer takes a long time to develop (from 20 to 50 years).

In the United States of America an estimated 2500 to 3000 new cases of mesothelioma cancer are diagnosed each year. This cancer is difficult to detect in its early stages. Unfortunately the disease is usually well advanced at its first diagnosis. Current treatments are not so effective in treating the disease when the average survival period is little over one year. However, it helps a lot if this cancer is found early and treated aggressively. Moreover many improvements are taking place in the treatment of this disease.
There are mainly three types of mesothelioma cancer that are:

  • Pleural Mesothelioma
  • Peritonial Mesothelioma
  • Pericardian Mesothelioma.

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma cancer with an occurrence of approximately 75% of all the malignant mesotheliomas. Pleural mesothelioma often originates within the chest cavity. It is a cancer of the lining of the lungs.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma originates in the abdomen where it affects the peritoneum. This type of mesothelioma cancer is less common than pleural mesothelioma and amounts to approximately 10% to 20% of all mesotheliomas. It is however more aggressive.

Pericardial mesothelioma originates in the lining that surrounds the heart. This type of mesothelioma cancer is the less common type of malignant mesotheliomas, accounting for approximately 5% to 15% of all types. This type of mesothelioma cancer is very aggressive.

The predominant factor that causes mesothelioma cancer is by exposure to asbestos fibers.   Asbestos has been used extensively in many industries for many years because of some desirable properties such as its resistance to melting and resistance to burning. Although nowadays asbestos is used less widely it is however not totally banned. Inhaled asbestos fibers may be embedded in the mesothelium where they may originate into mesothelioma cancer many years into the future. The risk of developing mesothelioma cancer increases with heavier exposure to asbestos and longer exposure to it. 

Although mesothelioma cancer generally results from occupational exposure there are situations of exposure to asbestos from the environment that may have caused the disease. Family members of asbestos workers may be exposed to asbestos dust that has been brought home on the clothes and hair of asbestos workers. This can also cause family members to develop mesothelioma cancer years later. It is important that Individuals that have been exposed or think that they have been exposed to airborne asbestos fibers should have regular medical check ups.

There are other debatable factors that are though to produce this cancer which include the Simian Virus 40 (SV40), Radiation Thorium Dioxide (Therotrast), and Zeolite. Cigarette smoking alone does not cause mesothelioma cancer but it increases a person's chances of developing mesothelioma cancer.

It is important to prevent mesothelioma cancer. The best way to prevent this disease is to avoid contact with asbestos.  Most people that get mesothelioma cancer had worked with asbestos in the past.  Workers should use protective equipment provided by their employers and follow recommended work practices and safety procedures.

Unfortunately family members living with people that are exposed to asbestos on their workplace have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma cancer.  This is because these individuals may be exposed to asbestos particles brought home by asbestos workers from particles embedded on the clothing, hair, skin or shoes of asbestos workers.

There was a time when oncologists (physicians that specialize in the treatment of cancer) preferred to concentrate on other types of cancers where information was readily available. Fortunately nowadays there is a large number of oncologists that are interested in the treatment of mesothelioma cancer.

Prolonged exposure to airborne asbestos particles does not only increase the risk of developing mesothelioma cancer but also other diseases such as Asbestosis, Pleural Disease, Lung Cancer, Other Cancers and Tumors.

As in other type of cancer or diseases it is important to recognize the symptoms as early as possible in order to start treatment in time. Proper attention to symptoms can lead to a considerable improvement in the chances that treatment will extend the life of the individual, relieve other symptoms and may even result in cure for some patients Unfortunately when mesothelioma cancer is diagnosed it is  usually in its later stages and so making treatment quite difficult. Symptoms depend on many factors such as the location of the tumor, the size of the tumor, the severity of the illness, the type of mesothelioma cancer (whether it is pleural, peritoneal or pericardial), the age of the patient and the general health of the individual.

Usually an individual will seek medical advice from his family physician complaining of certain symptoms such as persistent coughing, difficulty in breathing, pain in the chest/abdomen or a combination of these symptoms. Diagnosing mesothelioma cancer is not an easy process since the symptoms are similar to other type of common diseases.

In your first visit to the physician you will have a general check-up depending on your symptoms. If from the symptoms and medical examination the physician suspects mesothelioma cancer the physician may order several diagnostic tests on the patient. Nowadays, tests are being developed so that mesothelioma cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage, thus prompt treatment can be started as early as possible.

X-Rays, CT Scans. MRI scans and PET scans can offer a fair diagnosis. However to arrive at a definitive conclusion a physician often recommends a biopsy. A biopsy is a surgical procedure where a sample of tissue or fluid is obtained from the affected area and it is then examined in a laboratory by a pathologist. A biopsy may also determine the type of cells of the mesothelioma cancer, so that the appropriate treatment plan may be determined. The physician selects the adequate biopsy procedure depending on the area affected.  After the sample is obtained from the affected area by one of the above mentioned methods it is examined by a pathologist in a laboratory. A pathologist is a physician that examines tissues, blood and body fluids in order to diagnose diseases.

It will take several days for the pathologist to issue a pathology report. The pathology report is very important since it will help your physician to determine treatment and to effectively manage your condition. There are three cell types of mesothelioma cancer which are epithelioid, sacromatous and biphasic. Epitheloid is the most common accounting for 50-70% of all mesotheliomas. It is also the less aggressive. Sarcomatous is the most aggressive and accounts to 20-35% of all mesotheliomas. Biphasic is a combination of the two other cell types and it accounts to 7-20% of all mesotheliomas.

If mesothelioma cancer is diagnosed, it is important to know about the spread (stage) of the disease. The staging process may involve more tests in order to find whether the cancer has spread, and if this is the case, to which other part of the body. If mesothelioma cancer is only found in the membrane surface where it developed it is classified as localized. On the other hand if, the disease has spread from the original membrane to other parts of the body such as chest wall, lungs abdominal organs or lymph nodes, it is classified as advanced.

Unfortunately only a very small number of cases are diagnosed in the early stages. Many early diagnosis of mesothelioma cancer occur when the individual is being examined for other unrelated disease. The prognosis (the prediction of the course and outcome of the disease and the like hood of recovery) is poor in the case of mesothelioma cancer. In fact a 5- year survival rate occurs in only about 14% of all the cases. On the other hand there are individuals who have survived more than 10 years after the diagnosis. Survival depends on individual differences in patients. For example younger patients have a more favorable prognosis than older ones.

Being diagnosed with a serious illness like mesothelioma is both frightening and stressful. It is important however to stay calm and remember that you have to deal with the illness not only on the physical level but also on a psychological and spiritual level. You have to take appropriate care and control of your emotions. Although initially you may feel overwhelmed with negative emotions remember that things will start to be clearer the more you learn about the disease. People take different time to adapt to the new situation but eventually they will adapt.

Family members and friends can help you a lot to deal with your problems. It is so important to communicate effectively with them (see Patient-Family Communication). Children are vulnerable members of the family. It is important not to ignore them. It is useless to try to hide the problem from them. This will only do psychological harm to the children. Children will recognize if something is wrong in the family. It is important that you leave an open line of communication with the children (see Patient - Children Communication)

 There are also support groups and counseling services. Individuals in a support group have had or are passing through the same experience as yours. So they can be an invaluable resource of information for patients suffering from this disease. A counselor may also help you to sort your feelings and to deal with your particular situation.

It is important to check what your medical insurance covers. Medical insurance policies are not the same and it is important to be clear what your medical insurance covers and what it does not cover. This should be done prior to starting treatment. Remember that treatment may be quite expensive.

During your diagnosis and treatment you may be bombarded with a lot of information and medical records. You will also have to visit different types of physicians. Therefore it is important to keep a copy of all your medical records and present a copy of them when you visit a physician.

It is important to learn a lot about the disease as much as you can. Your physician is an invaluable source of information. So it is important to have an open line of communication with your physician. This is vital when dealing with a serious illness such as mesothelioma cancer. Your success in fighting the disease depends a great deal on effective communication with your physician. There are various issues that you need to know about your disease and it is so important to ask you physician about them (see Patient-Physician Communication)

After you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer you may be referred to another physician for a second opinion or for treatment. Further more there are other physicians that have a back-up role. People are usually quite confused by the number of specialists that treat or offer any service for the treatment of this disease..

It is also important to choose the physicians that can best treat your illness. Not all oncologists (physicians that treat cancer) may have the adequate experience to treat mesothelioma cancer (see Choosing a Physician). Remember that your type of cancer is quite rare.

There are also various treatment centers that can treat cancer. However it is important to choose the centre that best suits your needs. A specialized treatment centre may be very effective in treating various types of cancer but this may not necessary mean that cancer treatment is adequate to treat mesothelioma cancer. You have to find a treatment that is specialized in treating your particular type of cancer. (See Choosing a Treatment Centre)

The type of treatment available depends on the cancer's location, the stages of the disease, the age of the patient and the general health of the patient. Treatment for mesothelioma cancer includes the following:

-Chemotherapy - The use of drugs in order to kill cancerous cells
-Radiation Therapy - The use of high energy rays to kill cancerous cells
-Surgery - The removal of cancer and other tissues by surgery
-Clinical Trials - Research studies
-New approaches
-Alternative medicine
-Palliative care (see Pain)- Treatment for the symptoms of the cancer

Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery are called the standard treatment and a combination of these is usually used. Chemotherapy is the administration of drugs in order to treat mesothelioma cancer. The most common way to administer such drugs is intravenously (Injected through the vein).Chemotherapy drugs may have severe side effects.  The side effects depend on the type of the drug administered and the general health of the individual.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays in order to kill cancerous cells and shrink tumors. Surgery involves the total or partly removal of the tumor and/or other infected tissues. Surgery can also be used as a palliative treatment (to ease the discomforts of the mesothelioma cancer). Clinical trials are studies directed for the purpose to develop new treatments and to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of these new treatments. It usually involves a different approach from that of standard treatment. To be eligible for a clinical trial the patient should have certain characteristics. Eligibility depends on the stage of the disease, the age of the individual and many other factors.

The conventional methods (chemotherapy, surgery, radiation) are in reality quite ineffective in treating mesothelioma cancer. It is therefore not a surprise that some cancer sufferers take a try with alternative/complementary medicine. Such therapies include acupuncture, message, meditation, herbs, hypnoses laughter therapy, guided imagery, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation therapy and others. Research on various types of treatments is also advancing. More and more is being learned about mesothelioma cancer and specialists are gaining valuable experience.

Not all patients qualify for every type of treatment. Therefore it is important to know what type of treatment do you qualify to and what does each procedure entails. Further more, sometimes by following a certain procedure; you may limit your eligibility to follow other procedures. Therefore it is important to be well informed. Sometimes mesothelioma cancer may be in an advanced state or the patient may be very old and treatment options may be quite limited because of the severity of certain treatments. Therefore it may be more appropriate to alleviate the symptoms and not try to cure the disease (palliative care).

Chemotherapy drugs may have various side effects, some of which may be quite severe. It is important to be well informed before embarking on a chemotherapy drug treatment because the side effects may have an effect on your quality of life. Radiation therapy can also have various side effects. Side effects may range from mild to severe and it depends on many factors. These factors include the type of drugs given, the general health of the individual, anemia, problems with sleeping, psychological feelings such as stress and depression, and other medical problems.

There are many medications that can be used to help deal with side effects, some of which are over-the-counter medications, It is however very important to inform your physician before taking any over-the-counter medications because these may interfere with the chemotherapy drugs given. If the medications prescribed by your physician do not help inform him or her so he/she may prescribe others. The patient can also do a great deal to deal with the symptoms. The physician or nurse may give you a lot of tips of how to deal with the side effects (See Dealing with Side Effects)

Living with this cancer and the treatment requires life changes. It is important that you eat well. Many individuals are surprised by the type of nutrition recommended for mesothelioma cancer patients. We are accustomed to a culture where low-calorie food is highly acclaimed. However cancer patients are usually recommended to eat nourishing food with a high caloric value. This is very important since your body needs a lot of energy to fight the disease. Adequate food may also help to fight the side effects of treatment (See Nutrition)

This cancer takes a lot of your energy and so it is important to limit your activities and take adequate rest. Some light exercise may however be helpful (See Physical Activity and Rest)

 Chemotherapy drugs may cause a reduction in the red blood cells (Anemia). It is important that you limit you activities, sleep adequately and eat a proper diet.

 White blood cells count may also fall. These cells fight infections and so by a drop in the count of these cells your body will be less able to fight any infection. Appropriate measures must be taken to avoid any infection.

Perhaps of all the side effects of the treatment it is hair loss that is most visible and most patients may be very anxious about this. There are ways of how to deal with this problem.

It is also important not to get pregnant during treatment because this can severely affect your baby. Men who are having treatment must also not make their women pregnant because their sperms may be damaged. Further more it is important to be informed about the effect of the treatment on fertility. Some treatments may make the patient infertile permanently. So it is important to get all the information required in order to take informed decisions.

Patients may have pain, which has a large bearing on one's quality of life and so it is very important that it is adequately controlled. There are various methods that can ease your pain.

A mesothelioma cancer diagnosis resulting from asbestos exposure entitles the patient or family members to claim compensation. There are lawyers that specialize exclusively in this area. Asbestos lawyers usually specialize in cases regarding asbestos-related disease while mesothelioma lawyers specialize in cases regarding mesothelioma lawsuits. There may be some time limit that entitles a mesothelioma cancer sufferer to claim for compensation after the diagnosis or for family members to claim compensation if their loved one is deceased. So it important to seek legal advice as soon as possible.

After learning all this information required about this cancer, it is imperative that people all over the world should be made aware of the hazards of asbestos. They should be kept informed about the latest research and treatment of the various types of mesothelioma cancer.  Prevention of this severe disease saves lives, money and medical treatment and resources which would be used to other health services and medical needs.