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Mesothelioma is an aggressive and uncommon cancer, which is related to asbestos exposure. Although a diagnosis can be overwhelming, learning as much as possible about the disease is the first step to coping.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer, which is associated with exposure to asbestos. It is considered a rare type of cancer and is often aggressive. A diagnosis of mesothelioma is frightening, but gathering information is the first step in the fight against this disease. 

Symptoms And Types Of Mesothelioma

A thin layer of tissue called mesothelium, covers many of the internal organs in the body, such as the lungs and abdomen. Mesothelioma is categorized according which tissues the cancer originates in.

Plural mesothelioma, which starts in the chest cavity, is the most common type of mesothelioma.

The cancer can metastasize to other regions of the body, such as the brain. Symptoms vary, but often include chest pain and shortness of breath. Pain, which varies in intensity, may develop in the chest and back. As the condition progresses, facial swelling may be present and patients may cough up blood.

Another type of mesothelioma called peritoneal mesothelioma starts in the abdomen. The cancer often spreads to the liver and bowel. Weight loss, nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma. Abdominal pain is also very common often due to an accumulation of fluid. Additional symptoms may include anemia, fever and fatigue. In some cases, a bowel obstruction may develop, which can lead to additional pain and vomiting.

The least common form of mesothelioma is pericardial and involves cancer in the sac around the heart.

 Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma may include shortness of breath, chest pain and nausea. 

Mesothelioma Diagnosis And Staging

A physical exam and medical history including the patient’s exposure to asbestos is the first step in making a diagnosis of mesothelioma. A chest x-ray is usually one of the first diagnostic tests ordered to look for abnormalities, such as fluid in the pleural space. Additionally, an MRI or CT scan will also recommended in order to get more detailed images.

If there is an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen or pleural space, a sample will be obtained and tested for the presence of cancer cells. When cancer is suspected in the pleural space, a procedure called a bronchoscopy may also be performed. A bronchoscopy involves inserting a tube into the trachea, which enables the doctor to view the lungs and obtain tissue samples for a biopsy. A diagnosis can sometimes be difficult to make, since mesothelioma cancer cells often appear similar to other types of cancer cells. Specialized laboratory procedures may be used to detect small differences in the cells.

After a diagnosis of mesothelioma is made, additional tests will be performed to stage the cancer, which means determining if it has spread to other areas beyond its original site. CT scans of the chest and abdomen, blood tests and positron emission tomography, are often done to determine how advanced the cancer is.

According to the Mayo Clinic, plural mesothelioma, is staged from stage I to Stage IV. Stage I involves cancer which is only located in one part of the lung lining. Stage II, occurs when cancer has also spread to the lung. Stage III is indicated by cancer, which has spread to the lymph nodes. Stage IV is the most advanced stage and involves cancer, which has metastasized to distant areas, such as the liver.   

Mesothelioma: After The Diagnosis

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, shock may be one of the first emotions you feel. Fear and anxiety may be close to follow. Understanding treatment and prognosis is the first step to cope with the condition.

Mesothelioma Treatment

Treatment for mesothelioma will depend on where the cancer originated, the stage of the disease and the patient’s preferences. In most cases, a combination of different types of treatment will be recommended. 

Chemotherapy is often used to treat mesothelioma.

Chemotherapy involves administering certain combinations of medication to kill the cancer cells. It is most often administered orally or intravenously.

Surgery to remove tumors is also sometimes used to treat mesothelioma. Surgery may involve removing some of the lining around the lung or abdomen. If cancer is present in a portion of the lung, it may be removed. Radiation therapy, which uses high energy, may also be used to treat certain types of mesothelioma.

In some instances, if the cancer is advanced, treatment may still be given as palliative care. Palliative care involves treatment, which may not be done to cure the condition, but to ease symptoms. For example, fluid may be removed from the abdomen or chest to ease discomfort.

Some patients’ may also decide to become involved in a clinical trial for mesothelioma. Clinical trials involve undergoing treatment, which is still in the investigative or research stage. If you are interested in clinical trials, your doctor can provide more information.  

After an initial diagnosis, an oncologist will discuss all treatment options and the advantages and drawbacks of each. Ways to reduce treatment side effects and deal with pain for the disease should also be covered.    

Understanding The Mesothelioma Prognosis

Prognosis varies based on several factors. The age of the patient, underlying health issues and the stage of the disease all affect prognosis. The type of mesothelioma also is a big factor is prognosis. Certain types of mesothelioma may have a better prognosis than others. For example, the average survival rate for people with pleural mesothelioma is seventeen months from the start of symptoms, which is a better survival rate than other forms of the disease.  

Peritoneal mesothelioma tends to have a poorer prognosis than plural mesothelioma. The average survival rate is about ten months from the onset of symptoms.

It is difficult for experts to predict prognosis for people with pericardial mesothelioma. Because this types of cancer is considered extremely rate, accurate survival statistics are not available.

After a cancer diagnosis, one of the first questions which may come to mind is what the survival rate is. Reading about cancer stats can be frightening and paint a pretty bleak picture in some situations.

But patients should keep in mind, survival rates are just statistics and do not tell the entire story.

Statistics rarely are broken down by age range or factors, such as whether additional medical problems are present. For instance, a patient in their 50s who is otherwise healthy, may have a better prognosis than a patient who is 80 years old and has co-morbidities, such as heart disease. Try not to focus too much on stats alone.  

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