Mesothelioma: An Aggressive Form of Cancer
Mesothelioma and its effects
Mesothelioma is also sometimes called “malignant” mesothelioma because there’s a non-cancerous version. This rare disease affects a thin layer of cells — mesothelium — that covers the insides of the chest and belly. That type of cell is also found outside of most internal organs such as the heart, liver and lungs. When cancer attacks these cells, it usually spreads widely before the disease is found.
Asbestos and risk for mesothelioma
Almost all mesothelioma patients have worked with asbestos and breathed tiny asbestos fibers into their lungs. Sometimes the families of asbestos workers get the disease. Doctors think this probably comes from breathing in asbestos dust from the worker’s clothing. Asbestos is also linked with scarring of the lung and lung cancer.
Can mesothelioma be found early?
Doctors haven’t developed a screening test for mesothelioma. Some people who’ve been exposed to asbestos get chest x-rays or other imaging tests. It’s not clear if those tests are useful, however. Most cases of mesothelioma are discovered when people start getting symptoms.
Symptoms of mesothelioma usually appear 20 to 50 years after the exposure to asbestos. The disease comes in a few types, and the symptoms are different for each type. Also, many other conditions can cause similar symptoms. The most common symptoms of mesothelioma are:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
Types of mesothelioma
There are four primary types of mesothelioma, which are described by the part of the body where a tumor originates.
- Pleural mesothelioma – Develops in the lining of the lungs (pleura)
- Peritoneal mesothelioma – Originates in the peritoneum, the thin lining inside the abdomen
- Pericardial mesothelioma – Originates in the pericardium, the lining of the heart cavity (rare)
- Testicular mesothelioma – Extremely rare, with only a small number of diagnoses worldwide
Stages of mesothelioma
Cancer experts usually divide mesothelioma into four main stages, although there are other staging systems. Also, because the disease is rare, only one type — pleural mesothelioma — has been classified with stages. Those stages are:
- Stage 1 – At this point there’s a tumor in one location and it has not spread.
- Stage 2 – Now the tumor is growing and has invaded nearby organs, such as the lung.
- Stage 3 – Mesothelioma has broken into a large region, such as the chest wall or lymph nodes.
- Stage 4 – This stage means that the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body.
No cure for mesothelioma has been found, but it can be treated in its early stages. Therapy usually combines surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. In later stages, the goal of treatment is pain reduction.
Coping with mesothelioma
Most cases of mesothelioma are hard to treat. The treatment itself has potential side effects as well. It will be important to find ways to cope. Here are some things you can do:
- Rely on your family and friends – Everyone needs help dealing with this type of cancer. Family and friends can help you get through the tough times, so don’t be afraid to ask.
- Talk with your doctor – Your doctor or doctors can also help. They can tell you about support groups in your area, explain your treatments and keep your spirits up.
- Connect with outside groups – Get in touch with cancer organizations such as the American Cancer Society. These groups can help in many ways.
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.