The life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is poor, as there is no cure for the disease. The stage of the disease, cell type, and location of the tumor(s) are the most important factors for a patient’s survival. Factors such as the patient’s overall health, age, and whether the cancer has spread also impact prognosis.
After receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis, there are a number of vital decisions that must be made. The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance is dedicated to providing patients with the best resources available on current treatment, stories of survival and hope, and financial assistance.
Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer caused by asbestos exposure. It forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, heart or testicles. Around 2,500 new cases of malignant mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the U.S.
A small portion of mesothelioma tumors are not cancerous. Known as benign mesothelioma, these tumors respond well to surgery and rarely recur.
To understand malignant mesothelioma, it is important to learn about its causes, symptoms, types, treatment and prognosis. Learning more about mesothelioma cancer will help you make wise decisions about treatment and help you choose the best path to extend your life expectancy.
Mesothelioma symptoms do not usually arise until tumors have grown and spread, and they begin to press against the chest wall or abdominal cavity.
COMMON MESOTHELIOMA SYMPTOMS
- Dry coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Respiratory complications
- Pain in the chest or abdomen
- Fever or night sweats
- Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
- Weakness in the muscles
Inhaling microscopic asbestos fibers is the primary cause of mesothelioma. Once these fibers enter the lungs, they can become lodged in the pleura, accumulating and causing cellular damage that can lead to cancer. This process often takes decades. Mesothelioma may not develop until 20-50 years after asbestos exposure.
Pleural mesothelioma (PM) is the most common of the four types of mesothelioma. It accounts for nearly 75 percent of all cases diagnosed annually in the U.S., and the majority of cases are traced to occupational exposure to asbestos. Factory workers, shipyard workers, mechanics and construction workers have the highest risk of developing the disease.
We know receiving a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis can be frightening and confusing, and our Patient Advocates are here to ease your burden. Take advantage of our resources to learn about the latest research and top doctors who can help you cope with this rare cancer.
The symptoms of mesothelioma make diagnosing the disease difficult. Symptoms take 10 to 50 years to appear after a person has been exposed to asbestos. The symptoms of mesothelioma are common in several other illnesses.
Doctors diagnose most patients when the disease has reached an advanced stage because the symptoms are nonspecific. If you have a history of exposure to asbestos, and have felt any of the following symptoms,get in touch with a member of our Patient Help Team. We will connect you to an experienced doctor and get you treatment that can help improve your prognosis.
On rare occasions, patients without a history of asbestos exposure have developed pleural mesothelioma. Many non-asbestos pleural mesothelioma cases come from exposure to minerals that closely resemble asbestos in structure, known as asbestiform minerals. Winchite and richterite are two examples of asbestiform minerals that have caused pleural mesothelioma. Some non-asbestiform minerals are associated with mesothelioma, including the zeolite mineral called erionite and the iron formation called taconite.
Research shows that at least 80 percent of all mesothelioma cases are caused by asbestos exposure. Other non-mineral causes may include radiation, chemicals, metals and inflammation. Studies on other causes show mixed results, but radiation seems to be a definitive cause in a handful of mesothelioma cases. Some studies have investigated whether Simian Virus 40 plays a causative role, but the results are inconclusive.
Pleural mesothelioma rarely develops without a specific cause. However, pediatricians have reported a very small number of spontaneous cases in children.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer (malignancy) that most frequently arises from the cells lining the sacs of the chest (the pleura) or the abdomen (the peritoneum). Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form, often presenting with symptoms in the chest area. Peritoneal mesothelioma is much less common. This can affect the organs in the abdomen, and its symptoms are related to this area of the body, that is, abdominal swelling, nausea, vomiting, and bowel obstruction. The rarest form of mesothelioma is pericardialmesothelioma, which involves the sac surrounding the heart.
There are two major cell types of mesothelioma, epithelial and sarcomatoid. Sometimes both of these cell types can be present. The sarcomatoid type is rarer and occurs in only about 15% of cases; it portends a poorer prognosis. In very rare cases, mesothelioma can originate from benign, non-malignant cells. This so-called benign mesothelioma can be cured surgically.
Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma vary depending on where the cancer occurs.
Pleural mesothelioma, which affects the tissue that surrounds the lungs, causes signs and symptoms that may include:
- Chest pain under the rib cage
- Painful coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual lumps of tissue under the skin on your chest
- Unexplained weight loss
Peritoneal mesothelioma, which occurs in tissue in the abdomen, causes signs and symptoms that may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Lumps of tissue in the abdomen
- Unexplained weight loss
Other forms of mesothelioma
Signs and symptoms of other types of mesothelioma are unclear, since these forms of the disease are very rare.
Pericardial mesothelioma, which affects tissue that surrounds the heart, can cause signs and symptoms such as breathing difficulty and chest pains.
Mesothelioma of tunica vaginalis, which affects tissue surrounding the testicles, may be first detected as swelling or a mass on a testicle.
Factors that may increase the risk of mesothelioma include:
- Personal history of asbestos exposure. If you’ve been directly exposed to asbestos fibers at work or at home, your risk of mesothelioma is greatly increased.
- Living with someone who works with asbestos. People who are exposed to asbestos may carry the fibers home on their skin and clothing. Exposure to these stray fibers over many years can put others in the home at risk of mesothelioma. People who work with high levels of asbestos can reduce the risk of bringing home asbestos fibers by showering and changing clothes before leaving work.
- A family history of mesothelioma. If your parent, sibling or child has mesothelioma, you may have an increased risk of this disease.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that starts from mesothelial cells. These cells line the outer surface of most of the body’s internal organs, forming a protective membrane called the mesothelium.
Some mesotheliomas form a mass (tumour), while others grow along the mesothelium and form a thick covering. In later stages, mesothelioma may spread (metastasise) to other parts of the body.
The mesothelium that covers the lungs is called the pleura. Mesothelioma that develops in the pleura is known as malignant pleural mesothelioma or, simply, pleural mesothelioma. It accounts for more than 90% of all mesotheliomas.
Although pleural mesothelioma involves the lining of the lungs, it is not lung cancer and is diagnosed and treated differently.
There are two layers in the pleura. The inner layer lines the surface of the lungs and is called the visceral pleura. The outer layer lines the chest wall and the diaphragm, and is called the parietal pleura.
Between the two layers is the pleural cavity (also called the pleural space), which normally contains a small amount of fluid. This fluid allows the two layers of pleura to slide over each other so the lungs move smoothly against the chest wall when you breathe. When mesothelioma develops in the pleura, the delicate layers of the pleura thicken and may press on the lung, preventing it from expanding when breathing in (inhaling). Excess fluid often collects between the two layers – this is called a pleural effusion.
Mesothelioma mainly affects the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), although it can also affect the lining of the tummy (peritoneal mesothelioma), heart or testicles.
More than 2,600 people are diagnosed with the condition each year in the UK. Most cases are diagnosed in people aged 60-80 and men are affected more commonly than women.
Unfortunately it’s rarely possible to cure mesothelioma, although treatment can help control the symptoms.
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma
The main symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- shortness of breath – which usually worsens with activity or when lying down
- chest pain or pain in the shoulder and upper arm
- loss of appetite, weight loss
- persistent cough or a change in a person’s usual cough
- heavy sweating, particularly at night.
Early signs of pleural mesothelioma are similar to other conditions and diseases, however, if you think you have been exposed to asbestos, talk to your doctor.
The other main type is peritoneal mesothelioma, accounting for about 10% of cases. It develops in the lining of the abdomen.
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma
The main symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include:
- swollen or painful abdomen
- loss of appetite
- bowel or urinary problems.
Less commonly, mesothelioma begins in the membrane around the heart or the reproductive organs. Growths form which gradually grow and spread to surrounding areas. Rarely, a person may develop mesothelioma in more than one place.
Causes of Mesothelioma
The main risk factor for mesothelioma is working with asbestos. Asbestos is a group of minerals with thin microscopic fibers. Because these fibers are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals and do not conduct electricity, asbestos has been mined and used widely in the construction, automotive, and other industries.
If tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air, as they are in the manufacturing process, they can be inhaled or swallowed, leading to serious health problems. As many as 75% of mesothelioma cases can be linked to exposure to asbestos at work. There is also some evidence that family members and others living with asbestos workers have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma, and possibly other asbestos-related diseases. This risk may be the result of exposure to asbestos dust brought home on the clothing and hair of asbestos workers. Cases of mesothelioma have also been seen in people living close to asbestos mines.