Mesothelioma is a rare type of lung cancer that primarily affects those who have (at some point in their lives) been exposed to asbestos fibers. This can affect the lining of the lungs, as well as the linings of the heart and abdomen. The lining is also known as the mesothelium.
This form of cancer is almost always highly malignant and often leads to mortality within just a few years. A Mesothelioma attorney would report that lawsuits about this deadly disease have been steadily growing, and while asbestos is now banned in most countries, it seems that many more people are destined to be affected by it. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 3,000 new cases of Mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States each year.
This rare cancer strikes men more often than women; however, diagnosis can come at any age. Individuals that have a previous exposure to asbestos are those at the highest risk of developing this cancer. Some cases have also been reported in individuals that live with individuals that are exposed to asbestos as particles can be transmitted on skin and clothing.
All of our organs are lined with a tissue called mesothelium. Mesothelioma is a cancer of that tissue that typically starts in the lungs. Asbestos particles inhaled through work or living environments are the main cause. It can take 30 to 50 years after exposure for symptoms to occur. There are four distinct stages for this cancer that describes the location and level of spread beyond the initial cancer site.
Pleural Mesothelioma: Cancer is limited to one portion of the lining of the chest.
Cancer has spread beyond lining to diaphragm or lung.
Cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other areas.
Cancer is in an advanced stage of spreading involving distant areas of the body including the lymph nodes and brain.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer and is often difficult to diagnosis because the symptoms are similar to other respiratory diseases and conditions. Because of this, misdiagnosis is not uncommon. Symptoms include pain the lower back, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Individuals that experience and of these symptoms and know that they have had exposure to asbestos at some point in their life, need to consult with their physician immediately.
The biggest risk factor in developing Mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. While asbestos is a fibrous mineral that occurs naturally, it has been found to cause serious respiratory problems including cancer. Individuals that have worked in construction, ship building, in military service, as an auto mechanic and other positions that have any of the symptoms above should consult with their healthcare team immediately and tell them about their past exposure. Asbestos has been widely used in the manufacturing of products including roofing materials, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, automobile parts, paper and cement. After exposure, it can take decades for this cancer to develop.
Talking To Your Doctor About Your Symptoms
Mesothelioma is a very serious and rare form of cancer. Individuals that have worked in high-risk jobs that have a history of exposure to asbestos should monitor their health carefully for decades after exposure. Since this is such a rare cancer, it is often overlooked by the medical community and therefore caught in later stages.
Your doctor should understand your risk factors and know that you were in a position that exposed you to asbestos. Additionally, family members that have lived with individuals that were exposed to asbestos should be aware that they may be at risk for developing this cancer later in life. It is important that their doctors understand that they lived with an individual that was exposed to asbestos through their profession.
How Patients Are Diagnosed With Mesothelioma
Your doctor and health care team will take a full medical history from you. They will ask about all of the symptoms you experience, when the symptoms began, and their severity. It helps to keep a journal about the symptoms you experience to help your doctor with the diagnosis. The doctor will conduct a physical examination and order a variety of diagnostic tests. Often the first tests ordered are blood tests. Soluble mesothelin peptides and ostepontin levels are checked and if they are found to be high, it is possible that the patient has Mesothelioma. However, many additional tests will be required.
After blood tests, the doctor will take both tissue and fluid samples to detect if there are cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, many doctors will then do biopsies in specific areas to extract a sample of the tumor. Often these can be completed via needle biopsy, however occasionally more invasive biopsies may be required. The removal of tissue and examination under a microscope can determine if cancer cells are present. If cancer cells are found, patients will go through a series of imaging tests to further determine if the cancer is in fact Mesothelioma. These imaging tests include X-rays, PET (Positron Emission Tornography) scans, MRI and CT scans.
Talking To Your Doctor After Diagnostic Tests
It is important to have a friend or family member accompany you to the appointment following all of the diagnostic tests. A lot of information including the specific diagnosis, treatment options and outlook will be presented in a relatively short period. Having an advocate asking questions on behalf of the patient can help fill the gaps that may be missed under stress. The doctor will go through the results of the tests and provide a diagnosis. Your health care team will give you treatment options and make recommendations for what is best for your specific case.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options
No two cases of mesothelioma are identical. It is important for patients to understand that depending on the stage of the cancer, past medical history and other factors, treatments can vary widely. A treatment protocol can include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments.
In surgery, the cancerous tissue may be removed from the chest lining, outside surface of the lungs, or other affected areas. In some cases, a lung, the lining of the chest, the diaphragm or the sac around the heart may be removed as well. Radiation is used in cancer protocols to kill cancerous cells or to keep them from growing. It can be administered externally or internally. Chemotherapy may be used to stop cancerous cells from dividing or to kills them. Chemotherapy solutions today include both oral medications and injections. As with all cancer diagnoses, it is recommended that patients consult an oncologist for a second opinion. Different doctors may recommend different treatment protocols and it is important to know and understand all options for treatment.
During & After Treatments
It is vital that patients understand how the diagnosis of Mesothelioma and the treatments are going to affect their day-to-day lives. Some individuals may be physically able to continue working during the treatments, while others may not. All treatments will have some side effects; patients and their caregivers must understand how best to care for individuals being treated for Mesothelioma. After the treatments, regular follow-up appointments with the doctor will be required. These will include physical examinations, blood tests, and imaging tests. It is important during this time to keep a journal of all symptoms the patient experiences. Some doctors may recommend complimentary therapies including relaxation techniques, acupuncture or acupressure to help ease the stress and aid in recovery.
Current Research Into Mesothelioma
The U.S. National Institute of Health through www.clinicaltrials.gov lists 203 research studies that are active, recruiting patients, or have been completed. There are a variety of drug and treatment protocols being tested for Mesothelioma patients. Because of the rarity of this serious cancer, some research facilities and hospitals have a difficult time recruiting patients for trials. Patients are urged to speak with their doctor about their eligibility in taking part in a clinical trial to find a cure for Mesothelioma.
Hope and Support After Diagnosis
It is normal to experience panic, fear and anger after any kind of cancer diagnosis. It is essential to have a support team, including a qualified Mesothelioma lawyer, on your side. Friends and family need to be kept informed of the diagnosis and treatment protocols. Additionally, patients find support in meeting regularly with other patients going through similar emotional and physical challenges. There are a wide array of nonprofit organizations that provide organized support groups online and locally. These include:
- Alliance For Lung Cancer, Advocacy, Support and Education (ALCASE).
- American Institute for Cancer Research.
- CancerCare provides counseling, education and support groups.
- Cancer Support Community
- Cancer Hope Network
It is important for patients to understand that they are not alone during this difficult time. There is hope. Formal support groups and personal support through friends and family are essential for the emotional and physical well-being of individuals that have been diagnosed with Mesothelioma.
Organizations Working For A Cure
There are a variety of research hospitals, nonprofit organizations and others desperately seeking a cure and better diagnostic tests for Mesothelioma. Even though this is a rare form of cancer, scientists, physicians and researchers across the globe are constantly striving to find the answers patients and their loved ones need. There is hope in finding a cure and below is a list of organizations that are the forefront of advocating for Mesothelioma patients and for find a cure.
Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO). An independent organization that works to raise awareness about the harmful health effects of asbestos exposure. They are a voice for asbestos victims and their families. They support research in improved treatment methods, early detection and diagnosis, disease prevention and community forums for patients and their families.
Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF). A nonprofit dedicated to advocating for patients at both state and federal levels for the funding of additional research initiatives. They work to connect patients diagnosed with Mesothelioma with cancer specialists and programs in their area.
International Mesothelioma Program. This is a joint initiative of Harvard University School of Medicine, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They are the leading experts in Mesothelioma treatment research. Their treatment protocols combine holistic treatment of the mind and body through state-of-the-art treatments and patient support.
For individuals wanting to know how to prevent Mesothelioma, it is important to heed all precautions while on the job for the safe handling of materials. Individuals that work with asbestos require special protective equipment including suits, respirators, protective eyewear, and other things as needed for the safety of their health, and their friends and family. Secondary asbestos contamination is rare but has been detected in the family members of those that work in asbestos facilities.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer. A diagnosis can be difficult to achieve. Patients that experience any of the common symptoms including shortness of breath, pain in the abdomen or pain in the lower back should consult with their doctor immediately. Any previous exposure, or expected exposure to asbestos should be thoroughly discussed with their medical team.
Mesothelioma can present like many other respiratory illnesses and anyone with a background where asbestos exposure occurred should bring it to their doctor’s immediate attention. Additionally, any individuals, including grown adult children that lived with a parent or other person that was exposed to asbestos should mention this to their health care providers if symptoms arise. It can take decades for Mesothelioma to appear which is one of the reasons that it can be so difficult to diagnosis.
Friends and Family
After a diagnosis, stay connected with friends and family. Conduct research online; read everything you can about this disease. Visit Mesothelioma forums and get to know what other individuals are going through, the treatments they have gone through, and how they are coping with the diagnosis and treatment. Speak with your medical team about clinical trials and research trials available to determine if you are a candidate for any of these promising treatment protocols. Research trials are heavily regulated and because of the rarity of this cancer, many have a difficult time finding participants for their studies
Medical researchers the world over are searching for better diagnostics, better treatments, and cures for this devastating disease. There is hope for patients and their families after the diagnosis of Mesothelioma. While the numbers of individuals that are diagnosed each year in the United States is relatively small versus other forms of cancer, there are organizations working tirelessly on their behalf.
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