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Mesothelioma Treatment in NJ, CT, MD,

and the Washington, D.C., Area

Mesothelioma is a cancer that develops in the mesothelium, the thin tissue lining vital internal organs such as the heart, lungs, and liver. Mesothelioma is rare, with the American Cancer Society estimating that there are about 3,000 new cases each year in the United States.

At Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA), patients can receive the latest treatments for a wide range of cancer types, including mesothelioma, from board-certified medical oncologists and hematologists. The team is skilled in providing comprehensive and compassionate care at multiple community-based clinics across New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., area.

What Is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that attacks cells in the mesothelium. The disease typically is not diagnosed until it has spread widely throughout the body. 

Because mesothelioma is rare, it long has been misunderstood and often went unrecognized or misdiagnosed. In fact, the cancer was not called mesothelioma until 1909, and research into its cause did not begin until the 1960s. However, the earliest cases were recorded in the 18th Century.

With research advances, doctors have identified several types of mesothelioma based on the location of the disease. These variations include:

  • Pleural mesothelioma: Forms in the tissue lining the lungs
  • Pericardial mesothelioma: Forms in the tissue lining the heart
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma: Forms in the tissue lining the abdomen
  • Testicular mesothelioma: Forms in the tissue lining the testicles

Doctors also categorize mesothelioma by cancer cell type. These three types are biphasic, epithelioid, and sarcomatoid. Mesothelioma sometimes is called malignant mesothelioma because there also is a non-cancerous (benign) version of the disease.

Construction worker with mesothelioma coughing

Mesothelioma Causes and Risk Factors

Nearly all cases of mesothelioma start with asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a very durable, fire- and water-resistant material that was used to produce many consumer items during the 20th Century. When health researchers realized the damaging effects of this material, mining to obtain asbestos ceased in the U.S., but the material remains in some older homes and buildings.

Many people who develop mesothelioma encountered asbestos at work. Materials containing asbestos can release microscopic fibers into the air. Over time, the cumulative amount of asbestos these individuals inhale or ingest can cause mesothelioma. Family members of these workers can also develop the disease; doctors believe this happens because asbestos can stick to workers’ clothing, enabling asbestos to be brought into the workers’ homes where family members may inhale particles of the material.

Living in a home or building that contains asbestos materials, such as in insulation, also can cause mesothelioma. Some people experience the disease after living in areas near asbestos mines or factories or with natural asbestos deposits.

Other risk factors for developing mesothelioma include:

  • Age
  • Radiation exposure
  • Zeolite/erionite exposure
  • Certain genetic mutations (Germline BAP1)
  • Certain illnesses (Simian virus 40)
  • Poor health
  • Alcohol consumption and tobacco use (risk factors for all cancers)

Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma often is difficult to detect in its early stages because many people do not display noticeable symptoms until the disease has advanced and the tumor begins affecting nearby organs and tissues. Signs of mesothelioma may not appear until 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure.

Most patients with mesothelioma experience fatigue, fever, a loss of appetite, and unexplained weight loss. Other common symptoms include:

  • Coughing/wheezing
  • Abdominal and chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluid buildup
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fluid buildup
  • Night sweats

Symptoms can vary depending on the location of the tumor. Below are common signs and symptoms for different types of mesothelioma: 

Pleural Mesothelioma

  • Chest pain
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Trouble breathing
  • Regular and dry cough
  • Excessive sweating
  • Pleural effusion (fluid buildup in the area between the chest wall and the membranes lining the lungs)
  • Pleural plaques (gray-white sections of thickened tissues in the lining of the lungs)
  • Pleural thickening (scar tissue cause the lining of the lungs to thicken)

Pericardial Mesothelioma

  • Chest pain
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Right shoulder pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swelling in the legs and lower extremities
  • Pressure against the heart from fluid buildup (cardiac tamponade)
  • Pericardial effusion and thickening

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal distension (swelling of the stomach)
  • Feeling full without having eaten much food
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss (can be more significant than with other types of mesothelioma)
  • Nausea
  • Peritoneal effusion (ascites)

Testicular Mesothelioma

  • Swelling of the scrotum
  • Inguinal mass that appears like an inguinal hernia
  • Solid scrotal (paratesticular) mass
  • Fluid in the lining around the testicle (hydrocele)
  • Fluid buildup in the epididymis, the tube that stores and transports sperm (spermatocele)
Doctor explaining scan to patient

Stages of Mesothelioma

Physicians use four primary stages to classify mesothelioma at diagnosis and in monitoring the patient subsequently. A higher number correlates with a greater progression of mesothelioma. Most patients have stage III or IV mesothelioma when diagnosed. The staging system varies slightly depending on the type of mesothelioma, but the general approach is as follows:

  • Stage I: Cancer has not spread outside its location of origin in the mesothelium
  • Stage II: Cancer has spread only to neighboring organs (localized)
  • Stage III: Cancer has spread to lymph nodes and other tissues (regional)
  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread to distant areas of the body

Many doctors use the TNM system to stage mesothelioma. TNM refers to the three components that are considered in this approach to staging cancer:

  • Tumor (size and extent)
  • Node (whether or not cancer has affected lymph nodes)
  • Metastasis (where cancer has spread)

Non-Surgical Treatment Options for Mesothelioma

While no cure currently exists for mesothelioma, treatment can extend survival, reduce the number and impact of tumors, help minimize symptoms, enhance quality of life, and, particularly in later stages, reduce pain. 

Most physicians take a multidisciplinary approach to treating mesothelioma, combining surgical and non-surgical methods. However, some patients may benefit solely from medical treatment. Two of the most effective non-surgical options for treating mesothelioma are:

  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy beams of radiation to target and kill cancer cells or impede their growth. It also may help decrease symptoms.
  • Chemotherapy, which involves administering powerful medications that attack and eradicate cancer cells. Chemotherapy also can slow the growth of cancer cells or shrink tumors.

Surgery for Mesothelioma

Physicians may recommend surgery to treat mesothelioma. As noted, surgery often is part of multimodal therapy, which means a combination of two or more cancer treatments. The primary goal of surgery is to remove tumors and the nearby tissues affected by mesothelioma. Especially when combined with other treatments, surgery can significantly improve survival.

Patients have different surgical options based on their specific health needs and the purpose of receiving treatment. In addition to removing cancerous cells, doctors also may suggest surgery to improve symptoms and enhance quality of life.

Emerging Treatment Options

For patients who do not respond well to traditional surgical and non-surgical treatments, clinical trials are available to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of emerging therapies. These clinical trials reflect the continued efforts of medical researchers to advance mesothelioma treatment. Two options include:

  • Immunotherapy: This treatment leverages a patient’s immune system to identify and attack cancer cells. Immune checkpoint inhibitors have made significant strides in mesothelioma treatment, extending patient survival and enhancing quality of life for patients.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy works like chemotherapy, but specifically targets malignant cells to avoid affecting healthy cells. It also inhibits the development of cancer.

Managing Mesothelioma Symptoms

Because mesothelioma is difficult to detect before it has progressed, treating the cancer is challenging. Additionally, the various treatment options can produce side effects. From diagnosis to treatment, patients regularly look for ways to cope with mesothelioma. The following are some options: 

Palliative Care: Improving Quality of Life

From trouble sleeping to nausea and fatigue, cancer and its treatment can cause many bothersome symptoms. Palliative care aims to make living with mesothelioma more comfortable by offering medications and therapies that alleviate symptoms and side effects. Many patients find that palliative care enables them to maintain a more fulfilling life while managing mesothelioma.

Pain Management and Symptom Relief

Even if palliative care is not necessary, many patients benefit from working with a physiotherapist to better manage pain associated with mesothelioma and treatment. These healthcare professionals can help patients live more comfortably by showing them how to move in ways that prevent or reduce pain. Pain management also may involve guidance with taking medications, whether orally, intravenously, or by another method.

Emotional Support and Mental Health Care

A cancer diagnosis can take a heavy toll on mental and emotional health, as well as physical health. Patients who feel anxious, overwhelmed, or uncertain at any point may consider the following strategies:

  • Reach out to family or friends: Family members and friends, who often serve as caregivers, can provide a helping hand and listening ear during this time. They can offer support with transportation to and from appointments, assistance with at-home recovery, and more.
  • Talk with the physician: Doctors have resources to help patients with different concerns. They can connect them with support groups and provide materials to help patients understand their diagnosis better.
  • Find support resources: From peer networks to national organizations to financial assistance programs, many resources are available to help patients navigate mesothelioma. Some include:

Prognosis and Survival Rates

Many patients wonder about the prognosis of mesothelioma. The 5-year relative survival rate looks at how likely it is for a person diagnosed with a specific cancer to live for at least 5 years compared to someone without cancer.

Survival rates differ depending on a cancer’s stage. The American Cancer Society reports that the estimated 5-year relative survival rate of mesothelioma at each stage is: 

  • Localized: 24%
  • Regional: 16%
  • Distant: 7%
  • Median of all stages: 12%

Survival rates are not a surefire indication of how long a person will live with mesothelioma, nor are they representative of the experiences of all patients. These values are estimates based on the outcomes of large numbers of past cases. For further information on the 5-year relative survival rate and how it applies to their diagnosis, patients should talk with their medical oncologist.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mesothelioma

What Is the Average Age of Mesothelioma Patients?

Most people are older when diagnosed with mesothelioma, although doctors sometimes detect it in younger patients. The average age at diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma is 72 years.

Can Mesothelioma Be Prevented?

The most effective way to prevent mesothelioma s is to limit asbestos exposure. For example, workers can reduce the likelihood of inhaling or ingesting asbestos by using personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling materials that could contain asbestos. Companies can educate themselves on asbestos safety to promote a healthier workforce.

Can Smoking Cause Mesothelioma?

Researchers have not found a clear link between smoking and mesothelioma. However, a link exists between smoking and increased risk of lung cancer and other lung diseases. The combined factors of asbestos exposure and smoking can heighten the risk of developing mesothelioma, as smoke inhalation can impact how the body responds to asbestos fibers.

Find Compassionate Mesothelioma Care at RCCA

Regional Cancer Care Associates’ medical oncologists and hematologists have extensive experience treating a range of cancers and blood disorders. Committed to providing comprehensive and compassionate care, these doctors work to understand the unique health situations and concerns of each patient and then develop and implement individualized treatment plans. For patients who need assistance with the costs of treatment, RCCA also offers financial information to provide more peace of mind about affording care.

With more than 20 community-based locations across New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., area, patients can find care close to home at RCCA. For more information about mesothelioma treatment and other services, contact RCCA or visit one of the nearest locations for care.

Regional Cancer Care Associates — Cancer care you can trust

Experienced, compassionate and dedicated to the communities they serve — that describes the doctors at Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA). Our doctors focus on every patient, individually, and will work with you and your family to make sure your care is second to none. At RCCA, you’ll be diagnosed and treated by experts who are part of one of the largest cancer care networks in the country. And you’ll receive high-quality, comprehensive and advanced treatment close to home.

You can talk with us by calling (844) 346-7222. You can also schedule an appointment and get more information by calling the RCCA location nearest you.

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