What is it?
It seems like that every time you turn on the TV there is a commercial advertising for a class action lawsuit for those who are suffering from mesothelioma or their families. Many people don’t know what mesothelioma is, let alone why there would be lawsuits surrounding it. What causes mesothelioma? How is it treated? What can be done to prevent it?
Mesothelioma is an aggressive and deadly form of cancer that appears in the thin layer of tissue that covers most of your internal organs, which is called the mesothelium. Cancer is the result of a mutation in a cell’s DNA. This mutation instructs the cells to grow and multiply without stopping, so these abnormal cells start to accumulate and create a tumor. Since these cells are your own, your body doesn’t recognize them as being problematic, so it doesn’t activate your immune system to attack them. Unfortunately, it’s still not clear what sparks the initial genetic mutation in mesothelioma, but there are some factors that definitely increase your risk. The primary one is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral naturally found in the environment. It’s made up of fibers that are strong and resistant to heat, which makes it very useful for a variety of things. The problem with it occurs when it’s broken up, which creates dust. When this dust is inhaled or swallowed, the fibers get inside your lungs or stomach and irritate the mesothelium. The good news is that most people don’t develop mesothelioma even after they’ve been exposed. However, it’s a slow process, so if you do end up with mesothelioma, you won’t likely know until 20-60 years after your exposure. The majority of people who are exposed to asbestos are because they work in a field where it’s used frequently. Some of these professions include asbestos miners, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, insulators, shipyard workers, demolition workers, brake mechanics, home remodelers and some military personnel. Besides direct exposure, other risk factors include living with someone who works with asbestos because the fibers can be on their clothing and skin when they come home from work, having a family history of mesothelioma or having radiation therapy to the chest.
Since mesothelioma can affected any part of the mesothelium, it can show up anywhere in your body. The most common areas are the lungs, abdomen, heart and testicles. It is classified according to the location. Since the mesothelium around your lungs is called the pleura, this type is called pleural mesothelioma. The mesothelium in your abdomen is called the peritoneum, so this is referred to as peritoneal mesothelioma. If your heart is impacted, it’s called pericardial mesothelioma and if your testicles are affected, it’s known as mesothelioma of tunica vaginalis. These two are very rare. Given that the locations vary greatly, so do the symptoms. For pleural mesothelioma symptoms include chest pain, coughing that’s painful, shortness of breath, unusual lumps under the skin on your chest, difficulty swallowing, pain caused by pressure on the nerves/spinal cord and unexplained weight loss. With peritoneal mesothelioma, you’re more likely to experience abdominal pain/swelling, nausea and unexplained weight loss. In pericardial mesothelioma, you’ll probably have chest pain and breathing difficulty. With mesothelioma of tunica vaginalis, the symptoms are a mass on a testicle or swelling to the testicle. One potential complication of pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma is the accumulate of fluid in either of these spaces.
The treatment for mesothelioma is dependent on the stage/location of it and your health. Only pleural mesothelioma is given a stage using Roman numerals I – IV. If you have a lower number, then the cancer is localized and hasn’t spread to other parts of your body. Since mesothelioma is an aggressive disease, it’s often not caught until it’s in an advanced stage. This means that it can’t be removed via surgery. If this is the case, it’s very important to talk to your doctor about your treatment plan. Some individuals want to do everything possible to try and cure it, even if they have to go through many unpleasant side effects. Others just want treatment to help them be comfortable so they can live the rest of their time with as little symptoms as possible. This is a very personal decision and your doctor can provide you with the information needed to help you make the best choice for you.
If your mesothelioma is caught during the early stages, there are several treatment options to consider. There are various types of surgical procedures depending on your type and complications. The primary goal of surgery is to remove as much of the cancer as possible, which sometimes means that some of the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor is also removed. In the case of an entire lung being affected, your surgeon may recommend removing the whole thing. If fluid accumulates within your body, your surgeon can insert a small catheter through your skin to remove it, making you more comfortable. Another treatment option is chemotherapy. This uses chemicals to kill the cancer cells and is usually given intravenously (IV). It’s often used to help shrink larger tumors prior to surgery to make them easier to remove, after surgery to decrease the likelihood of the cancer returning or to shrink/slow the growth of tumors that are inoperable. An alternative treatment option is radiation therapy, which uses high-energy beams from X-rays or protons directly aimed at specific spots on your body to help kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery. Immunotherapy is an additional possible treatment. This helps your immune system to recognize that the cancer cells are bad and to attack them.
While there are no alternative medicine therapies that are effective at treating mesothelioma, there are some that can help you deal with some of the symptoms. Since pleural mesothelioma is the most common, most of these techniques are designed to help with the shortness of breath that many people feel. Besides using supplemental oxygen, practicing certain breathing or relaxation procedures can help decrease the feeling. Some individuals find that acupuncture or pointing a fan at their face is helpful as well. Receiving the diagnosis of mesothelioma can be frightening and overwhelming. To help you deal with the news, learn as much as you can about it, have a good support network of family/friends, join a support group and plan ahead in the event you become unable to make decisions for yourself (ex. advanced directive).
One of the most important ways to prevent mesothelioma is to reduce your exposure to asbestos. This is why it’s key to find out if you work with it in your job. If you do, it’s essential to follow all safety precautions, like wearing protective equipment or showering/changing clothes before going on lunch or going home. In many cases, asbestos is in older homes and buildings because it was used in building materials before the danger it posed was known. Typically, this type of asbestos doesn’t present a threat. It only becomes an issue when you try to remove it because to can cause dust with particles of asbestos to be released into the air where you could inhale or swallow it. If you’re concerned about the possibility of asbestos being your house, consult with experts who are trained to detect and remove it, so you don’t get sick.
Mesothelioma is a very serious disease. This is why it’s critical to do all that you can to decrease your chances of getting it. If you have any questions or concerns about mesothelioma, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the American Cancer Society’s Malignant Mesothelioma page at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma.html