The Unique Issues of Mesothelioma
For many people, the only time they have heard the word ‘mesothelioma’ is radio ads and television advertisements. The truth is mesothelioma is so much more than that.
What Is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer primarily caused by a prolonged history of asbestos exposure. This is often the result of occupational exposure from careers in construction, auto repair, the military and many other occupations regularly exposing workers to asbestos.
Every year, an estimated 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the United States. Most commonly, the disease affects people over the age of 60, but there are several known cases in people as young as 30 years old. The cancer has an especially long latency period, which means it can take decades for any symptoms to show up. On average, it takes 20-50 years from a patient’s initial exposure to asbestos until an actual mesothelioma diagnosis is made.
Types of Mesothelioma
There are four main types of mesothelioma: Pleural, peritoneal, pericardial and testicular. Each is named after the area of the body where the cancer was initially found.
The most common type of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which is found in the lining of the lungs known as the pleura. It makes up roughly 75 percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses.
The second most common type of mesothelioma is found in the peritoneum, the lining of the abdomen; this is called peritoneal mesothelioma. Making up approximately 20 percent of all mesothelioma cases, the peritoneal form typically has a slightly better prognosis than the pleural type.
The signs and symptoms of mesothelioma are often very subtle until later stages of the disease. As a result, many patients may underestimate the importance of speaking to their physician about minor concerns. The most common symptoms include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest and abdomen pain, dry cough and wheezing.
Many of these symptoms overlap with other less aggressive conditions, including COPD, pulmonary fibrosis and other lung cancers. Due to this, it is not uncommon for patients to initially be misdiagnosed by a general doctor. This is one of the key reasons patients need to see a mesothelioma specialist if there is a possibility that they have the aggressive asbestos cancer.
Mesothelioma Treatments and Advancements
Every day, researchers and physicians are partnering to find the latest mesothelioma treatment options to extend the lives of patients. The most common mesothelioma treatments include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. More recently, researchers are looking at the efficacy of immunotherapy in treating mesothelioma. Several clinical trials are looking into immunotherapy at various points of a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Recently, doctors and researchers have begun exploring the effectiveness of immunotherapy drugs combined with aggressive surgery. They are also looking into creating a more personalized treatment approach by targeting specific gene mutations found in mesothelioma patients. It is with these advancements that patients and physicians alike can hope to see a cure for mesothelioma in the future.
Cara Tompot: Cara joined The Mesothelioma Center as Social Media Specialist in July 2015 to continue her mission of making a difference in world. Every day, Cara speaks with survivors, caregivers and their loved ones in the online mesothelioma community to answer questions and offer emotional support. If you have a story idea for Cara or you’d like to learn more about social media, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.