Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the thin membrane protecting several of the body’s important organs, including the lungs, abdomen and heart. Mesothelioma treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other treatments.
The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a naturally-occurring, fire-resistant mineral used in many industries including construction, manufacturing, and the military. There are approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma in the United States every year. It may take several years from the time of asbestos exposure for mesothelioma to develop.
Types of Mesothelioma
Pleural mesothelioma affects the protective lining of the lungs, called the pleura. About 75 percent of all diagnosed cases are pleural. If you’ve been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, you have the highest life expectancy.
Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the protective lining of the abdominal cavity, the area of your body containing several organs, including the stomach, intestines, kidneys, and liver. 20-24% of all mesotheliomas occur here.
Pericardial mesothelioma affects the protective lining of the heart. It accounts for about 1% of all cases. Because it’s rare, doctors do not get to treat many patients with mesothelioma in the pericardium.
Testicular mesothelioma affects the serous membrane, or “tunica vaginalis,” surrounding the testes in men. It is the rarest form of mesothelioma cancer and is considered highly aggressive.
Mesothelioma occurs when cells become abnormal and divide or grow out of control. When someone has mesothelioma, the lubricating fluid in the lining may be over-produced. This excess fluid encases the organs with a thick layer of tumor tissue that puts pressure on the organs. People with pleural mesothelioma often complain of shortness of breath and a buildup of fluid in the chest area.
It often takes 10 to 60 years after exposure to asbestos before the symptoms of mesothelioma develop. Because of this latency period, the disease commonly affects men and women that are at least 50 years of age and that worked with asbestos between 10 and 60 years ago.
Many people working 10 to 60 years ago were not required to use any type of protection in the workplace while they were exposed to asbestos, even though the companies that manufactured the products containing asbestos had full knowledge that it was dangerous and that exposure to asbestos would harm the health of many of their workers.
Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose. As with other cancers, an early diagnosis is important for effective treatment of mesothelioma. When caught in an early stage, there may be more mesothelioma treatment options available. If you believe that you may have mesothelioma and that you worked with asbestos in the past, you should tell your doctor.
This disease is often misdiagnosed. Medical tests can be expensive and may take weeks to run. The doctors may diagnose other, more common ailments, like pneumonia. They may even prescribe the wrong treatment.
Doctors may perform a series of tests such as x-rays, CT scans, PET scans, a fluid biopsy, and a tumor biopsy to diagnose mesothelioma. The diagnosis will be based on consideration of all tests and the findings.