The soft tissue that forms the lining of your stomach, lungs, heart and other major organs is known as the mesothelium. Mesothelioma is any tumor that forms in these tissues and is also known as malignant mesothelioma and is an extremely rare but aggressive and deadly cancer. Many treatments are available, but for most people who have mesothelioma, a cure is not a possibility.
Doctors and researchers have divided mesothelioma into various types, based on the part of the mesothelium and organ that is affected.
It is important to note that the term mesothelioma does not refer to a non-cancerous tumor which occurs in the chest, and is often called solitary fibrous tumor or benign mesothelioma.
Generally this form of cancer begins with a series of mutations on a cellular level, and quickly multiplies out of control.
Researchers have identified some factors that can increase the risk of developing mesothelioma, but they are not yet sure what triggers the initial mutation.
It is very likely that the cancer forms due to the interaction of many factors including inherited conditions, health, environment and lifestyle choices. The signs and symptoms of each mesothelioma are depended on where the cancer presents itself.
what are the symptoms of mesothelioma?
Pleural mesothelioma: this occurs in the tissue that is around the lungs, and causes symptoms which include:
- Chest pains underneath the rib cage
- Pain while coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Lumps underneath the skin on your chest
- Inexplicable weight loss
- Swelling in the face and neck, which is caused by pressure being placed on the superior vena cava- the vein which runs upwards from the heart.
- Pain in the spinal cord due to pressure in the spinal canal and nerves.
- A plural effusion which is an accumulation of fluids in the chest that leads to compression in the lung.
Peritoneal mesothelioma: this presents in the tissues lining the abdomen, and causes symptoms which include:
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lumps of tissue in the abdomen
- Pericardial mesothelioma: This affects the tissue which surrounds the heart, and causes symptoms such as:
- Extreme chest pains
- Mesothelioma in the tunica vaginalis: this affects the tissue in and around the testicles and causes symptoms such as:
- Or a mass on the testicles
You need to see your doctor immediately if you find you have any of the symptoms listed above.
what are the symptoms of mesothelioma
symptoms of mesothelioma
symptoms of mesothelioma
The mineral asbestos is found naturally in our environment, and the fibers are heat resistant and strong which makes it useful for several things including:
- Brakes, shingles, flooring and insulation
When asbestos is broken down in the mining process or when removing insulation, dust is created.
If these dust particles are swallowed or inhaled, the fibers from the asbestos can settle in the stomach or lung and cause severe irritation which then leads to mesothelioma.
The sad thing about this condition is that it can take more than a decade after exposure to asbestos before mesothelioma is developed.
And even then, most people who have suffered years of asbestos exposure never actually develop mesothelioma; then there are the rare but severe cases, even with brief exposure.
Researchers say that this clearly means there are other underlying factors that contribute to the development of mesothelioma.
For example, an inherited predisposition to cancer could increase your risk of developing mesothelioma.Possible risk factors include:
A personal history of exposure to asbestos directly in the home or at work, or indirectly through someone who works with asbestos and then unknowingly takes the fibers into a share environment.
Researchers have also found that a monkey virus that is used in polio vaccines links between the simian virus found in monkeys and mesothelioma.
If you experience abdominal or lung symptoms, a general practitioner is likely to refer you to a specialist doctor, such as a pulmonologist for lung issues or a gastroenterologist for abdominal pain.
A biopsy is the first step to diagnosing mesothelioma. This procedure involves removing a small part of the tissue for a laboratory examination to be done.
In fact this is the only way to determine whether you have mesothelioma or not. There are several biopsy procedures to choose from depending on the affected are. These options include:Fine- needle aspirations: where your doctor will remove a piece of tissue or fluid with a small needle inserted in the abdomen or chest.Thorascopy: which allows your surgeon to take a look inside your chest by making a very small incision between the ribs, where a small camera attached to a tiny tube will be inserted into the chest cavity.
This procedure is often referred to as a VATS (video-assisted thorascopic surgery). Small surgical tools permit the surgeon to cut small pieces of tissue for testing.Laparoscopy: which allows your doctors to take a look inside your abdomen by making a single incision into your abdomen, on some occasions more than one incision will be made and a VATS procedure carried out.Thoracotomy: where a surgeon will open your chest up between the ribs to check for any signs of the disease. Samples of tissue will be taken for testing.Laparotomy: an exploratory surgery that opens the abdomen for examination by a surgeon. Tissue samples are taken for laboratory testing.
Once examinations of the tissue samples are completed your treatment plan will be determined.
Once the doctor makes a diagnosis of mesothelioma, a series of test will be done to determine the stage of the cancer.
The most common imaging tests done to ascertain this are:Chest x-ray:
- CT scans of abdomen or chest cavity
- PET Scan
Not every person will need the same tests, and each is requested depending in the person. Once the extent of the cancer is established, a stage is assigned.
Stage I mesothelioma is limited to one part of the affected organ– this is referred to as a localized cancer.
Stage II mesothelioma is cancer that has spread a bit beyond the initial affected area. In the chest it would have spread to the lungs of diaphragm
Stage III mesothelioma has spread a myriad of other structures- the lymph nodes are usually affected at this point.
Stage IV mesothelioma is considered the most advanced cancer which has spread extensively in the abdomen or the chest. The brain and liver also tend to be affected at this point.
The treatment you will undergo after diagnosis is determined by underlying health conditions and aspects of the cancer such as location and stage.
As mentioned before, the simple truth is that mesothelioma is a very aggressive type of cancer, and often at the point of no return by the time it is detected.
In some cases surgery can be used to remove the affected tissues and in other cases doctors will simply work to control the spreading of it.Surgery
Surgeons will work to excise affected tissue, and if the cancer is in its earliest stages, surgery will usually cure it.
Where it is not possible to completed remove the affected tissue by surgery other surgical procedures can be carried out to reduce the symptoms and signs. These include:
Surgery to reduce fluid build up. In the case of pleural mesothelioma fluid build up will make it extremely difficult to breath.
In this procedure surgeons will insert a catheter or tube into the chest cavity to drain the fluid. After which an injection will be given to prevent fluid from returning.
Surgery serving the purpose of removing tissue from the abdomen or lungs, where as much as the affected tissue lining is removed.
This procedure does not cure the mesothelioma, but it does relieve the symptoms and pain associated with the disease.
Debulking, which is surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible. After which radiation treatments will be used to further destroy the remaining cancer cells and provide relief.
Surgery to remove parts of the abdomen and even a lung if necessary. Radiation therapy is given to the affected areas after in an attempt to kill remaining cancer cells.
This surgical procedure in particular allows doctors to use the highest doses of radiation as they do not have to worry about protecting the entire chest or abdominal cavity.Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is one of the most common means of destroying cancer cell by the use of introducing chemicals to the body.
Systematically applied, chemotherapy makes its way throughout the body shrinking, killing or slowing the growth of mesothelioma that cannot be excise through therapy.
Some treatment regiments require that chemotherapy precedes surgery to make it easier to remove affected tissues, and lowering the possibility of cancer returning.
In the case of abdominal mesothelioma, the chemicals used for chemotherapy can be heated and then directly introduced into the abdominal cavity- intraperitoneal chemotherapy or intrapleural cavity for the patients affected by mesothelioma in the chest cavity.
Using these methods, chemotherapy can be directed towards the cells affected by the cancer, without doing further damage to other parts of the body.Radiation Therapy
This uses high–energy beams like X-rays to target a specific spot on the body. It is often used along with surgery or after a biopsy to reduce the symptoms of the mesothelioma or preventing it from spreading as a result if the surgical incision.Clinical Trials
For those who regular procedures can do little to nothing for, there are clinical trials that offer a glimmer of hope.
These trials try newly developed treatments without the guarantee for a cure.
However, participation in a drug trial helps doctors to better understand the nature and pathology of mesothelioma.
Many clinical trials also investigate several targeted drugs which attack particular abnormalities in the cancer cells.
These target drugs have a substance that cancer cells produce to attract blood vessels to supply them with oxygen.
Researchers hope that eventually these drugs will be developed to kill mesothelioma.
Pericardial and tunica vaginalis mesothelioma are extremely rare, but caught in the early stages they can be removed by surgery.
Outside of the listed methods there are no alternative medical treatments for mesothelioma, but eastern medicinal practices have been employed to help relieve the symptoms of mesothelioma over time.
Where fluid build up places excessive pressure on the chest, making it difficult to breathe, doctors might prescribe an additional oxygen source, but combining alternative and complementary approaches will help you to feel better.
These include:Relaxation Exercises
Where you slowly relax and tense the various muscle groups which will help to ease the pressure on your chest and make breathing easier. A doctor will usually recommend a therapist to help you gain the desired results.
Acupuncture: where needles are placed at specific points on the skin to help relieve pain.
Breathing training: A nurse or a specialist will usually work with you to help train your lungs under the new pressure that mesothelioma will place on your breathing.
It also helps you to control the panic that has a tendency of slipping in when you realize you are having a difficult time breathing.
Sitting close to a fan helps, as strange as this might sound. This helps to relieve the sensation of breathlessness that you might feel.
It can be quiet devastating to find out that you have mesothelioma, but in order to gain some semblance of control over your life from that point out, there are a few things you can do
You can learn as much as you possibly can so that you can help to make informed decisions about your condition. Be sure to check the information provided by the American Cancers Society and the National Cancer Institute.
Network with other people suffering from the same condition. Sometimes the best way to survive this disease is with a support system of others who have experienced first hand the struggle and pain associated with it.
Be sure to plan ahead, get pointers and directives from your health team as to what to do when certain conditions and situations arise. In the event the worse passes where you can no longer speak and handle yourself independently, ensure to have plans in place for that.