mesothelioma

Mesothelioma – Cancer caused by exposure to asbestos

Mesothelioma – Cancer caused by exposure to asbestos

Mesothelioma is an uncommon form of cancer, usually associated with prolonged exposure to asbestos, which affects the pleura, a sac which surrounds the lungs, the peritoneum, the lining of the abdominal cavity, or the pericardium, a sac which surrounds the heart.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs. Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles.

What is the mesothelium?

The mesothelium is a membrane that covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body. It is composed of two layers of cells: One layer immediately surrounds the organ; the other forms a sac around it.

The mesothelium produces a lubricating fluid that is released between these layers, allowing moving organs (such as the beating heart and the expanding and contracting lungs) to glide easily against adjacent structures.

The mesothelium has different names, depending on its location in the body. The peritoneum is the mesothelial tissue that covers most of the organs in the abdominal cavity. The pleura is the membrane that surrounds the lungs and lines the wall of the chest cavity.

The pericardium covers and protects the heart. The mesothelial tissue surrounding the male internal reproductive organs is called the tunica vaginalis testis. The tunica serosa uteri covers the internal reproductive organs in women.

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma (cancer of the mesothelium) is a disease in which cells of the mesothelium become abnormal and divide without control or order. They can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also metastasize (spread) from their original site to other parts of the body. Most cases of mesothelioma begin in the pleura or peritoneum.

How common is mesothelioma?

Although reported incidence rates have increased in the past 20 years, mesothelioma is still a relatively rare cancer. About 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States each year. Mesothelioma occurs more often in men than in women and risk increases with age, but this disease can appear in either men or women at any age.

What are the risk factors for mesothelioma?

Working with asbestos is the major risk factor for mesothelioma. A history of asbestos exposure at work is reported in about 70 percent to 80 percent of all cases. However, mesothelioma has been reported in some individuals without any known exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos is the name of a group of minerals that occur naturally as masses of strong, flexible fibers that can be separated into thin threads and woven.

Asbestos has been widely used in many industrial products, including cement, brake linings, roof shingles, flooring products, textiles, and insulation.

If tiny asbestos particles float in the air, especially during the manufacturing process, they may be inhaled or swallowed, and can cause serious health problems.

In addition to mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer, asbestosis (a noncancerous, chronic lung ailment), and other cancers, such as those of the larynx and kidney.

Smoking does not appear to increase the risk of mesothelioma. However, the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure significantly increases a person’s risk of developing cancer of the air passageways in the lung.

What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?

Symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear until 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. Shortness of breath and pain in the chest due to an accumulation of fluid in the pleura are often symptoms of pleural mesothelioma.

Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include weight loss and abdominal pain and swelling due to a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. Other symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma may include bowel obstruction, blood clotting abnormalities, anemia, and fever.

If the cancer has spread beyond the mesothelium to other parts of the body, symptoms may include pain, trouble swallowing, or swelling of the neck or face. These symptoms may be caused by mesothelioma or by other, less serious conditions. It is important to see a doctor about any of these symptoms. Only a doctor can make a diagnosis.

How is mesothelioma diagnosed?

Diagnosing mesothelioma is often difficult, because the symptoms are similar to those of a number of other conditions. Diagnosis begins with a review of the patient’s medical history, including any history of asbestos exposure. A complete physical examination may be performed, including x-rays of the chest or abdomen and lung function tests.

A CT (or CAT) scan or an MRI may also be useful. A CT scan is a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. In an MRI, a powerful magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures are viewed on a monitor and can also be printed.

A biopsy is needed to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma. In a biopsy, a surgeon or a medical oncologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer) removes a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope by a pathologist.

A biopsy may be done in different ways, depending on where the abnormal area is located. If the cancer is in the chest, the doctor may perform a thoracoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor makes a small cut through the chest wall and puts a thin, lighted tube called a thoracoscope into the chest between two ribs.

Thoracoscopy allows the doctor to look inside the chest and obtain tissue samples. If the cancer is in the abdomen, the doctor may perform a peritoneoscopy. To obtain tissue for examination, the doctor makes a small opening in the abdomen and inserts a special instrument called a peritoneoscope into the abdominal cavity. If these procedures do not yield enough tissue, more extensive diagnostic surgery may be necessary.

If the diagnosis is mesothelioma, the doctor will want to learn the stage (or extent) of the disease. Staging involves more tests in a careful attempt to find out whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to which parts of the body.

Knowing the stage of the disease helps the doctor plan treatment. Mesothelioma is described as localized if the cancer is found only on the membrane surface where it originated.

It is classified as advanced if it has spread beyond the original membrane surface to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, chest wall, or abdominal organs.

How is mesothelioma treated?

Treatment for mesothelioma depends on the location of the cancer, the stage of the disease, and the patient’s age and general health. Standard treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Sometimes, these treatments are combined.

Surgery is a common treatment for mesothelioma. The doctor may remove part of the lining of the chest or abdomen and some of the tissue around it. For cancer of the pleura (pleural mesothelioma), a lung may be removed in an operation called a pneumonectomy. Sometimes part of the diaphragm, the muscle below the lungs that helps with breathing, is also removed.

Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, involves the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy affects the cancer cells only in the treated area.

The radiation may come from a machine (external radiation) or from putting materials that produce radiation through thin plastic tubes into the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy).

Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Most drugs used to treat mesothelioma are given by injection into a vein (intravenous, or IV). Doctors are also studying the effectiveness of putting chemotherapy directly into the chest or abdomen (intracavitary chemotherapy).

To relieve symptoms and control pain, the doctor may use a needle or a thin tube to drain fluid that has built up in the chest or abdomen. The procedure for removing fluid from the chest is called thoracentesis. Removal of fluid from the abdomen is called paracentesis. Drugs may be given through a tube in the chest to prevent more fluid from accumulating. Radiation therapy and surgery may also be helpful in relieving symptoms.

 

 

 

FAQ 

What is the main cause of mesothelioma?

Asbestos exposure is the main cause of pleural mesothelioma. About 8 out of 10 people with mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos. When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they travel to the ends of small air passages and reach the pleura, where they can cause inflammation and scarring.

Is mesothelioma a cancer?

Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor that is caused by inhaled asbestos fibers and forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Symptoms can include shortness of breath and chest pain.

What are the warning signs of mesothelioma?

Pleural mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the chest) symptoms

* Pain in the side of the chest or lower back.

* Shortness of breath.

* Cough.

* Trouble swallowing (feeling like food gets stuck)

* Hoarseness.

* Swelling of the face and arms.

Is mesothelioma always fatal?

Malignant mesothelioma is considered an aggressive and fatal disease. Most mesothelioma patients only survive approximately 12 months after diagnosis. There is no cure for this cancer, but with treatment, patients have extended their life expectancies well beyond their initial prognosis.

Is mesothelioma a painful death?

Mesothelioma is a strange cancer, it is the second most painful to endure, the first being bone cancer.

What are the end stages of mesothelioma?

Common symptoms of late-stage mesothelioma include:

* Shortness of breath (dyspnea)

* Pain and tightness in the chest.

* Night sweats and fever.

* Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)

* Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)

* Fluid buildup in the chest or abdomen.

* Abdominal pain.

* Fatigue.

Why is mesothelioma so rare?

Another reason why mesothelioma is so rare is due to its latency period or the time between exposure and appearance of symptoms. On average, this disease has a range of latency between 13-70 years after inhaling or ingesting asbestos. It is a rare occurrence for its side effects to appear 10 or 20 years after exposure.

Who is most at risk for mesothelioma?

Age. The risk of mesothelioma increases with age. Mesothelioma can occur in young people (even children), but it’s rare in people under age 45. About 2 out of 3 people with mesothelioma of the chest are 65 or older.

What is the life expectancy of a person with mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma Survival Rate – The mesothelioma survival rates is typically 4–18 months after diagnosis, but there have been patients diagnosed with mesothelioma who have lived longer than 10 years. The current five-year survival rate for the disease is just 10 percent.

Do you cough up phlegm with mesothelioma?

When mesothelioma develops on the pleura (the lining of the lungs), it causes it to thicken and press inward on the lung. This pressure may cause dry cough, shortness of breath and chest pain. Tumors may also damage the nerves that connect to the pleura, triggering coughing.

Can mesothelioma go into remission?

If your mesothelioma goes into remission, it means that doctors can’t find any evidence of the cancer in your body. Some patients have lived for years in remission. You may be able to achieve mesothelioma remission with proper medical treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

What happens at the end of life with mesothelioma?

Unfortunately, the final stages of mesothelioma remain uncomfortable for many patients. Depending on the exact type of mesothelioma, patients typically endure pain near the area of cancer, as well as difficulty breathing, chest pain, painful coughing, or abdominal pain and swelling.

How fast growing is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma can take 20-50 years to develop after initial asbestos exposure. It is very rare to have a mesothelioma latency period of less than 15 years. The majority of adults with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos in the workplace, and it took decades for their cancer to develop.

How much exposure to asbestos will cause mesothelioma?

Out of all people with heavy, prolonged exposure to asbestos, 2% to 10% develop pleural mesothelioma. Symptoms of mesothelioma usually do not show until 20-50 years after asbestos exposure, which is when tumors have grown and spread.