Understanding Mesothelioma

What is Mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma is one of the rarest and most aggressive cancers.  Virtually all persons who suffer from malignant mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos.   It is a devastating disease that attacks the mesothelium, which is the critical membrane that protects the lungs, heart, and abdomen.

We cannot function without the mesothelium.  It is a thin layer of protective tissue that lubricates and protects our internal organs.  The mesothelium allows our lungs, heart, and abdomen to move easily inside our bodies. Without this protective membrane, our lungs, heart, and stomach could not freely expand and contract.

When one contracts mesothelioma, the person’s mesothelial cells become malignant and spread widely and rapidly.  The aggressive tumor expands and produces a fluid called a pleural effusion.  This fluid builds up in the chest or abdomen.  As the pleural effusions increase, the surrounding organs are pressed.  Eventually, the cancer cells often metastasize (or spread) into the lungs, chest wall, liver, lymph nodes, or even the brain.

It is estimated that 2500 to 3000 people in the United States are diagnosed with mesothelioma annually. Tragically, despite wide-ranging medical research, there is no cure.  Fortunately, the number of treatment options has steadily increased.  A patient’s prognosis can be significantly improved when the cancer is uncovered early and treated effectively.  Cancer researchers are working hard to develop innovative therapies that aspire to dramatically improve outcomes for future mesothelioma patients.

How is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

Mesothelioma is not easy to diagnose.  Unlike other forms of cancer, there are no early symptoms.  Consequently, those who have been exposed to asbestos should schedule regular checkups with a qualified physician.  Mesothelioma’s symptoms are often similar to the symptoms of other diseases.  These symptoms commonly include shortness of breath, pain in the chest or abdomen, or a persistent cough.

Due to the rare nature of mesothelioma, most doctors have very little or extremely limited experience with the disease. Therefore, if you have an occupational history of asbestos exposure, it is critical to schedule regular physical examinations in order to monitor the efficient functioning of your lungs and abdomen. It is also paramount that you immediately visit a doctor when you experience any of the symptoms of mesothelioma.

What are the Treatment Options?

Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are the most common mesothelioma treatment options.  Oncologists employ these treatment options to relieve symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life.

Once a diagnosis of mesothelioma is confirmed, your physician will likely order further tests to determine the stage or extent of the disease.  This enables your treatment team to formulate the proper course of treatment.