Mesothelioma – it’s an ugly word for an ugly condition. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, with about 3,000 cases a year reported in the U.S. Although the most common form of Mesothelioma, pleural Mesothelioma, affects the membranes surrounding the lungs, this type of cancer is very different from lung cancer. It is a much rarer and usually far more deadly form of cancer than lung cancer. Also, it is unrelated to smoking; it is caused by exposure to asbestos dust and fibers.
Asbestos, a mineral that was widely used throughout most of the 1900s in nearly every industry, forms long fibers that can be woven or mixed into materials. When asbestos is broken or crushed, the resulting dust and fibers hang in the air and land on surfaces nearby. People who breathe in or swallow asbestos dust are at risk for developing Mesothelioma.
Pleural Mesothelioma begins in the lining around the lungs. It usually begins in the outer membrane of one lung, and may progress to involving both lungs and other organs. The symptoms of pleural Mesothelioma include a dry cough, chest pain and pleural effusion.
Pleural effusion is the collection of fluid between the tissue covering the chest wall and the diaphragm and the tissue covering the lungs. Normally, there is a small amount of fluid in that area to make it easy for your lungs to move when breathing. In a person with Mesothelioma, the cells that usually absorb the excess fluid don’t work right, and the fluid builds up, causing pain, coughing and difficulty breathing.
Some of the symptoms that are commonly associated with pleural Mesothelioma include: persistent coughing; difficulty swallowing; facial swelling; weight loss; fever; rasping; and coughing up blood. Some patients may also experience shortness of breath, whether they are being active or even when they are resting. This can be caused by the thickening of the pleura due to the spread of the tumor. The thicker the pleura gets, the less space the lungs have to function properly, hence breathing begins to be affected. The treatment includes surgery chemotherapy and radiation.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma involves the lining of the abdominal and pelvic cavities, called the peritoneum. In about 10% of Mesothelioma cases, swallowed asbestos fibers cause changes to develop in the peritoneum. The symptoms of peritoneal Mesothelioma include swollen and painful abdomen, high temperature, bowel problems, and problems with urination, nausea and vomiting.
The treatment depends upon a number of factors. The doctor, once a diagnosis has been made, will make a recommendation based upon details such as: the extent of the cancer and how advanced it is; the patient’s general condition and health; past medical history of the patient; and the patient’s age.
Pericardial Mesothelioma affects the pericardium – the thin tissue lining around the heart. It’s the rarest of the types of Mesothelioma, accounting for less than 1% of reported cases. The symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, persistent coughing and palpitations.
Later-stage symptoms of all types of Mesothelioma include sudden weight loss without any other explanation, spitting up blood and sputum, problems swallowing, and hoarseness
It can occasionally be treated with surgery. However, the nature of this cancer means that it is very advanced by the time that it is diagnosed.