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Thursday, March 31, 2022

What You Need to Know About Mesothelioma and Asbestos

The Dangers of Asbestos Exposure 


The only proven cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that insulates material from fire, sound, water, and chemicals. It is composed of millions of fibers, which bind together to create a light yet incredibly durable material.

Asbestos was used in many products from the 1930s to the early 1980s. The mineral was used to build homes, buildings, construction materials, helicopters, planes, ships, vehicles, and more.

The negative health effects of asbestos were not well-known until millions had already been exposed. Manufacturers of products that contained asbestos knew the health risks but hid the facts so they could continue making a profit.

What is Mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that develops in the mesothelium, or the protective membrane that lines various organs. According to the American Cancer Society, around 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.

There are four types of mesothelioma: 
  • Pleural mesothelioma: affects the linings of the lungs (pleura)
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma: affects the linings of the abdomen (peritoneum)
  • Pericardial mesothelioma: affects the linings of the heart (pericardium)
  • Testicular mesothelioma: affects the linings of the testes (tunica vaginalis)

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the disease, accounting for 75–80% of all cases. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, fluid buildup in the lungs, chronic cough, difficulty breathing, and chest tightness.

Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the stomach lining, and common symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss.

Pericardial and testicular mesothelioma are incredibly rare and often go undetected until after death.

Mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed because it is rare and because it mimics more common illnesses such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Many doctors are unlikely to suspect this form of cancer unless the patient worked in a high-risk occupation that increased the risk of asbestos exposure. 

Seeing a mesothelioma specialist is the best way to ensure a thorough examination and accurate diagnosis.

To make a mesothelioma diagnosis, doctors will often first monitor initial symptoms such as dry cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, weight loss, and more. Once the doctor determines that more common conditions are not causing symptoms, they may test for mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is diagnosed through a series of tests, including imagining tests, blood tests, and biopsies. A biopsy is the examination of a fluid or tissue sample from the affected area to test for cancer cells. This process is the only way to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.

The only type of mesothelioma with its own formal staging system is pleural mesothelioma, which has four stages. Stages 1 to 2 are considered the early stages of disease, and patients can access more curative treatment, whereas stages 3 and 4 are considered late-stage disease with limited curative options.

If you believe you are showing any signs of mesothelioma, it is important for the sake of life extension and overall wellbeing to receive a prompt diagnosis and begin treatment.

How Do You Treat Mesothelioma?

There are several treatment options for mesothelioma depending on how far the mesothelioma has spread.

The two categories for malignant mesothelioma treatment include curative and palliative treatment.

Curative treatments are provided to help extend a patient’s lifespan, whereas palliative treatments manage symptoms and reduce discomfort. Doctors generally use the same mesothelioma treatments to achieve curative or palliative goals.

The three most common types of mesothelioma treatment include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

Common surgery options for pleural mesothelioma include an extrapleural pneumonectomy (removal of the lung and diseased chest cavity tissue) or a pleurectomy with decortication (a procedure that spares the lungs by removing tumors and diseased tissue).

Cytoreductive surgery is the only surgery known to effectively treat peritoneal mesothelioma. It involves an invasive procedure to remove abdominal tumors. World-renowned oncologist Dr. Paul Sugarbaker developed the idea to combine cytoreduction with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) to decrease the mortality rate in his patients.

Mesothelioma specialists will often prescribe multimodal therapy, which is a combination of multiple types of mesothelioma treatment. Customized treatment plans are designed to help you live for as long as possible.

Doctors will take multiple factors into consideration before they recommend how to treat mesothelioma. These factors can influence your mesothelioma prognosis and treatment plan.

Factors that may impact mesothelioma treatment include:
  • Cancer stage
  • How fast the cancer is spreading
  • Mesothelioma cell type
  • Mesothelioma type
  • Overall health

Mesothelioma is a rare and complex disease. Treating it requires expert knowledge from experienced doctors who can develop the most effective possible treatment strategy. Patients should choose a mesothelioma specialist based on the doctor’s experience with their diagnosis, location of their mesothelioma, and cell type.

Who is At-Risk of Developing Mesothelioma?

Anyone exposed to asbestos decades ago is now at risk of health problems since it takes 20 to 50 years for these diseases to develop and cause noticeable symptoms. Those who were constantly exposed to asbestos materials over long periods of time are more likely to develop diseases related to asbestos exposure.

However, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Some have even developed related diseases after one instance of asbestos exposure.

U.S. veterans are at an especially high risk of mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure. Every branch of the military relied on asbestos for decades because the mineral was cheap and is resistant to fire and heat. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), about 1 out of 3 mesothelioma patients are U.S. veterans. 

The military was unaware of the dangers of asbestos because manufacturers withheld this information from the government, private industries, and the public.

What Should I Do If I Think I Have Mesothelioma?

If you have been exposed to asbestos in the past and are exhibiting any signs resembling those associated with mesothelioma, it is important to consult with a doctor right away.

Many patients brush symptoms off as common conditions like colds. Always visit a doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms out of the ordinary.

Early detection can help you get an early diagnosis, which presents the best odds for life extension. Because mesothelioma is such an aggressive disease, receiving prompt treatment could potentially increase your life expectancy.

It is very important to stay hopeful during your journey fighting mesothelioma. Staying positive and maintaining morale can help you navigate through this difficult time. Thankfully, there are many treatment options available for mesothelioma patients, and researchers are tirelessly searching for a cure to this disease. 

Guest article submitted by: The Mesothelioma Hope Team

Mesothelioma Hope strives to give the most accurate and helpful directions for addressing mesothelioma symptoms, treatments, and resources. Mesothelioma Hope is dedicated to getting patients and their families the help they need.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors