Resources: Mesothelioma

We are dedicated to providing you information on Mesothelioma, including the latest Mesothelioma treatment options. It is our strong desire to equip you with knowledge about this cancer and your options.

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare form of asbestos-related cancer that develops in the mesothelial cells. These cells form tissue that surround or line the lungs, heart and stomach. The mesothelial cells protect these organs by producing a lubricating fluid that allows them to move smoothly.

Asbestos exposure is the overwhelming cause of Mesothelioma in the United States. Typically, the asbestos exposure occurred in an occupation or work environment. It is also well established, however, that bystander (working near others using asbestos-containing products) and household exposures (exposure from family members and their work clothes in the home) are known causes of Mesothelioma. There is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos.

Types of Mesothelioma

There are three primary types of Mesothelioma: Pleural Mesothelioma, Peritoneal Mesothelioma and Pericardial Mesothelioma.

  • Pleural Mesothelioma accounts for 75% of all diagnoses
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma accounts for less than 20% of all Mesothelioma cases
  • Pericardial Mesothelioma is the rarest form of the disease and accounts for very few cases.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease. While you may have one or many of the risk factors associated with a disease such as Mesothelioma, that does not mean you will get the disease.

The main risk factor for Mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Any exposure to asbestos, whether through a job, military service, building demolition or remodel, mechanic work, household exposure, bystander exposure or other exposure increases your changes of being diagnosed. There have been very few reported cases of Mesothelioma from causes other than asbestos.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma

The symptoms of Mesothelioma include, but are definitely not limited to:

  • shortness of breath
  • chronic cough
  • chest pain
  • fatigue

Often Mesothelioma is misdiagnosed because the symptoms are common to other ailments, such as colds and flu.

Stages of Mesothelioma

The stages of Mesothelioma were established by the Mesothelioma Interest Group and adopted by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC), and are similar to the staging system used for most other cancers. At this time, the staging system is only applied to Mesothelioma around the lung, and uses Roman numbers I to IV (1 to 4) to describe the severity of the cancer.

Key Statistics

Each year 2,000 – 4,000 people in America are diagnosed with Mesothelioma. This cancer gas a very long latency period, and most often shows up late in life and primarily in men. Unfortunately, mortality is very soon after diagnosis, typically because Mesothelioma is often far advanced by the time a diagnosis is made.

Please note that the information contained herein was not prepared by medical professionals and should not be construed as medical advice. Please address all medical questions, concerns and symptoms with your doctor.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare, but deadly form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. The cancer typically doesn’t develop for many years following exposure, and once it does, the symptoms are relatively subtle, making it difficult to diagnose. Mesothelioma can affect different areas of the body, depending on the type of mesothelioma. The vast majority of Mesothelioma cases affect the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. The area of the body first affected by mesothelioma dictates the type of mesothelioma a person suffers from.

Pleural Mesothelioma, for example, refers to Mesothelioma that occurs in the lining surrounding the lungs and is the most common form of Mesothelioma. The symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma are common and often misdiagnosed, which creates even more delays in completing the appropriate diagnosis and seeking proper treatment.

Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma may include:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • coughing up blood
  • chest pains
  • shortness of breath
  • fluid build-up in the chest
  • decrease of appetite
  • weight loss
  • changing of voice or hoarseness
  • night sweats
  • persistent dry cough
  • fever
  • fatigue

Peritoneal Mesothelioma causes tumors and fluid build-up along the mesothelial lining of the abdomen.

Symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma may include:

  • abdominal swelling
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • abdominal pain
  • fluid build-up in the abdomen

A third, yet less common form of Mesothelioma, is Pericardial Mesothelioma. Pericardial Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelium lining in the heart.

Symptoms of Pericardial Mesothelioma may include:

  • irregular heart beat
  • chest pain
  • fever
  • night sweats
  • difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • irregular breathing patterns
  • tight chest
  • persistent cough

Despite the list of symptoms that could suggest the presence of Mesothelioma, no one symptom is exclusive to the disease, and some patients may be asymptomatic, meaning they have no symptoms at all. It is important to see a physician as soon as symptoms present themselves to diagnose and treat the cancer as soon as possible.

Diagnosing Mesothelioma

The best way to ascertain appropriate treatment for Mesothelioma is through quick diagnosis of the disease. Due to the long latency period and the symptoms being common to other diseases, it can be difficult to diagnose Mesothelioma. Survival time relies on rapid diagnosis and immediate treatment, so make sure your doctor knows if you have been exposed to asbestos, the primary cause of Mesothelioma.

Before a treatment plan can be put in place, an evaluation of your Mesothelioma symptoms and a complete physical examination should occur. This examination may include:

  • X-rays of the chest or abdomen
  • Lung function tests
  • CT (CAT) scan
  • PET scan
  • MRI
  • Medical history
  • Information regarding asbestos exposure

A blood test may be used to determine if a protein call osteopontin is elevated. This test is more often used during your Mesothelioma treatment plan to determine progress.

Fluid and tissue samples are used to determine if cancer cells are present. If so, special tests are needed to diagnose the asbestos-related cancer as Mesothelioma. Stages of tests are required to give your doctor the best information on your Mesothelioma diagnosis and survival prognosis. Examples of tests on fluid and tissue samples include:

  • Thoracentesis – Removal of fluid in the chest, abdomen, or heart areas.
  • Thoracoscopy – Inserting a video camera in the chest to take a tissue biopsy or fluid.
  • Laparoscopy – Inserting a video camera in the abdomen to take a tissue biopsy or fluid.
  • Thoracotomy – Surgery to remove a larger tumor sample from the chest cavity.
  • Laparotomy – Surgery to remove a larger tumor sample, or the entire tumor, from the abdomen.
  • Bronchoscopy – Inserting a lighted tube to determine if there are masses in the bronchial airway. Small samples of tissue can be taken for testing.
  • Mediastinoscopy – Inserting a lighted tube under the sternum into the chest to view the lymph nodes and take samples for testing.

Mesothelioma often looks like other types of cancer, making it difficult to diagnose without special tests. One test, an immunohistochemistry, looks for different proteins on the cell surface and can determine if the cancer is lung cancer or Mesothelioma.

DNA micro-array analysis is a newer test that looks at genes in the cancer that is helpful in diagnosing Mesothelioma because it has a different gene pattern than other cancer types.

Another tool used to diagnose Mesothelioma is an electron microscope. Since it can magnify samples more than 100 times greater than a light microscope, the distinguishing part of cancer cells can be seen to determine other cancer types from Mesothelioma.

A diagnosis of Mesothelioma requires diligence on both the part of the patient and the doctor. Make sure your doctor knows if you were exposed to asbestos or worked in a profession where asbestos was regularly used, get checkups regularly, and know the risk factors and symptoms for Mesothelioma.

Types of Mesothelioma

There are three primary types of Mesothelioma:

  • Pleural Mesothelioma
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma
  • Pericardial Mesothelioma

Each type affects different areas of the body that contain mesothelial cells, which protect certain organs in our bodies. Certain Mesothelioma symptoms are common to more than one type of the disease including coughing, shortness of breath and fever.

Pleural Mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining surrounding the lungs, is the most common type of Mesothelioma, accounting for 75% of all diagnoses. The overwhelming cause is exposure to asbestos.

The cancer occurs in the lining of the lungs known as the pleura. The symptoms for Pleural Mesothelioma are common and often misdiagnosed. This creates even more delays in completing the appropriate diagnosis and seeking proper treatment.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, notify your physician in order to assist with the correct diagnosis of your symptoms. Otherwise, your doctor may assume more common medical ailments, such as pneumonia, to explain your condition.

Some symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma include:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain

Peritoneal Mesothelioma, which affects the stomach and abdomen, is the second most common form of Mesothelioma after Pleural Mesothelioma and accounts for less than 20% of all Mesothelioma cases. As with Pleural Mesothelioma, the primary cause of Peritoneal Mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. In addition, as with other Mesothelioma types, Peritoneal Mesothelioma has a long latency period, thereby delaying diagnosis and impeding treatment. Since the symptoms are common to other ailments, diagnosis can be delayed.

Some symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma include:

  • Swelling
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

Pericardial Mesothelioma is the most rare form of Mesothelioma and accounts for very few cases. This asbestos cancer affects the heart and its surrounding cavity. As with other types of Mesothelioma, Pericardial Mesothelioma has a long latency period, thereby delaying diagnosis and impeding treatment.

Some symptoms of Pericardial Mesothelioma include:

  • Persistent coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss

If you have been exposed to asbestos, make sure to notify your doctor so appropriate measures can be taken to ensure a correct diagnosis of your symptoms.

Mesothelioma Treatment Options

Once you or your loved one is diagnosed with Mesothelioma, researching to determine your course of action is time sensitive. You must quickly learn about this disease from a specialist and your doctor will run tests to learn how extensive the disease is and will designate a cancer stage based upon the test results. At that point, your medical team will discuss treatment options with you.

Mesothelioma treatment is dependent upon several factors, including:

  • Your cancer stage
  • Size and location of the tumor
  • Whether or not it has spread to lymph nodes or other organs
  • Your health and personal preferences

The cancer stage is an important aspect in deciding on the level and type of treatment. This is something you will want to discuss with your doctors so you have a good understanding of it.

According to the American Cancer Society, surgery has a higher likelihood of long-term benefits in earlier stages, particularly stage I. If your Mesothelioma is in a late stage, such as stage IV, has progressed to cover an extensive part of your body, or you cannot tolerate an operation, there are conventional treatment options such as chemotherapy that may slow the Mesothelioma growth, but will not result in a cure. Clinical trials may also be an option, and should be discussed with your doctor and family.

Regardless of the stage or level of your diagnosis, you should discuss with your doctors alleviating symptoms and pain management as part of your overall care. There are various options to consider, including:

  • Treatments to remove fluid buildup and enhance breathing
  • Radiation therapy
  • Pain-relieving drugs
  • Natural remedies

Be sure to consult your doctor to determine what is appropriate for your situation.

Since Mesothelioma can be difficult to treat, it is important that you understand the goal of your Mesothelioma treatment before it begins. Additionally, you want to be clear on the benefits and risks of the various treatment options. Consider engaging the assistance of a family member or third party to assist you in tracking and recording conversations with your medical team. The best decisions can only be made after careful consideration of your diagnosis, and determining the most appropriate treatment options for your Mesothelioma.

Obtaining Treatment for Mesothelioma

Cancer Centers

We have compiled a list of cancer centers for your convenience. These centers are designated by the National Cancer Institute as Comprehensive Cancer Centers and are recognized for scientific excellence and extensive resources. This list will provide a good starting point for you to find treatment facilities in your area.

Leading Mesothelioma Doctors

Your Mesothelioma treatment will be provided by a team of medical professionals rather than by one person. You will want to consult with a number of specialists, including a doctor well versed in the treatment of Mesothelioma. We have compiled a list of leading Mesothelioma doctors across the United States to assist you in finding one in your area.