What is Mesothelioma Cancer?
Mesothelioma is rare cancer that develops in the mesothelium, which is a two-layered membrane that protects several organs in the body, including the heart, lungs and abdomen. The disease develops from asbestos filaments; those with a prolonged history of asbestos exposure are at risk of developing the cancer.
Asbestos filaments, when inhaled adhere to the mesothelium and eventually eat away at the protective tissues. The destruction the mesothelium leads to proliferation; when the cancer metastasizes to other sites, the disease is rendered inoperable.
Asbestos, when untouched, does not pose a significant risk; however, when the mineral is disturbed, carcinogenic dust particles become airborne. If chronically inhaled, the likelihood of developing mesothelioma cancer becomes very real.
Although the cancer is rare (roughly 2,000-3,000 mesothelioma cases are recorded per year), those with a prolonged history of asbestos exposure face severe risks of contracting the disease.
The majority of mesothelioma tumors form in the lining of the lungs or chest cavity. Common symptoms include: difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, pleural effusion, persistent coughing, severe or unexpected weight loss, and night sweats.
Malignant Mesothelioma is nearly impossible to detect in its early stages. Problems with early is difficult because the symptoms are slow-developing; they will not be noticed for 25-50 years following the initial exposure to asbestos. Moreover, the cellular composition of the disease is bewildering to the majority of oncologists or other medical professionals.
Treatment for malignant mesothelioma is dependent on the cancer’s progression at the time of diagnosis. The stage of the cancer is linked to metastasization. The last stage of the cancer, stage 4 mesothelioma, will exhibit complete proliferation to several areas beyond the tumor’s origin point.
Due to late diagnosis, the prognosis attached to the disease is commonly bleak. Most mesothelioma patients will only live 4 to 18 months after diagnosis.
Mesothelioma comes in three distinct forms: pleural, pericardial and peritoneum. Pericardium mesothelioma originates in the layer of tissues that protects the lungs; peritoneum mesothelioma destroys the tissues that line the abdomen (the peritoneum); and pleural mesothelioma, which is the most common form of the cancer, attacks the pleura, the thin network of lubricating cells that surrounds the chest wall and lungs.
Mesothelioma treatment methods are dependent on the stage the cancer is in at the time of diagnosis. Mesothelioma may be diagnosed in one of the following stages:
Stage I Mesothelioma: The infancy of the cancer features a localized tumor that is commonly found in the lining of the lungs, the sac surrounding the heart or the diaphragm. A diagnosis in stage I is extremely rare. Patients lucky enough to secure an early diagnosis may be eligible for curative mesothelioma treatment surgeries. Curative mesothelioma surgeries attempt extract the cancerous tumors from the body.
Stage II Mesothelioma: The disease transitions to stage II once the cancer has proliferated past the point of origin. Mesothelioma at this stage is located in the lymph nodes or chest wall. Although curative surgical mesothelioma treatment options may be available in this stage, life expectancy has greatly decreased.
Stage III Mesothelioma: Diagnosis of mesothelioma is most common in this stage. Stage III mesothelioma is an advanced form of the cancer that exhibits tangible symptoms. In this advanced staged, the cancer has spread to the heart, mediastinum, the lining of the peritoneum or beyond to the diaphragm and/or the chest wall. Stage III mesothelioma patients face a brutal life expectancy, due to severe proliferation. Because of this, Stage III mesothelioma patients are only eligible for palliative care. These methods are applied to ease the symptoms associated with the cancer. Palliative care is elective and undertaken to bolster the patient’s quality of life.
Stage IV Mesothelioma: In the mesothelioma’s final stage, the cancer has spread to distant locations in the body. Stage IV mesothelioma is inoperable. Stage IV symptoms are very painful and only palliative treatment methods are applied to bolster the patient’s quality of life. Stage IV life expectancy decreases to 4 to 18 months.
It is vital, if you or a loved one has a prolonged history of asbestos exposure, to seek immediate medical attention. Even if you do not notice symptoms, seeking professional is a necessary to safety precaution with regards to mesothelioma diagnosis. If the doctor believes that your exposure to asbestos is severe, he/she will order various imaging tests, including chest x-rays, CT scans and MRI’s. These tests will take pictures of your protective tissues and organs to pick-up on any irregularities. If the doctor senses something is off, you will undergo further evaluations with the end goal being an early stage mesothelioma diagnosis.
Should I See a Specialist?
If you have a history of asbestos exposure you do not have to see a mesothelioma specialist for imaging tests, such as CT scans, chest x-rays or MRI’s. In other words, if you are worried about your asbestos exposure history and would like to have a doctor inspect your tissue structure and your lungs, you will not need to see a specialist. General medical doctors may perform these tests at your local doctor’s office. The general practitioner will inspect these images for any irregularities. If complications are observed, the practitioner will seek the aid of an oncologist. At this point, you will need to see a mesothelioma specialist for your case.
It is often very difficult for general practitioners to decide if you have the early stages of mesothelioma cancer. The basic guidelines regarding medical professional responsibility state that a general practitioner should send you for an urgent chest x-ray if you have a history of asbestos exposure. Imaging tests will be deemed be an emergency situation if you have developed chest pains, experience difficult breathing and have suffered from a series of unexplained symptoms that can be described as transient, yet severe.
According to these guidelines, you should ideally receive an urgent referral to a mesothelioma specialist within 2 weeks of seeing the general practitioner for any of the following reasons:
• If your chest x-ray results show anything abnormal
• If your history of asbestos exposure is regarded as severe and you have recently developed chest pain.
What does an Oncologist do?
Oncologists are mesothelioma specialists. Once you are diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer or are currently undergoing diagnostic tests for the cancer, you must visit with an oncologist. These individuals are medical professionals who have specialized in diagnosing and treating all forms of cancer. A mesothelioma oncologist is a specialized version of this profession; these specialists are sought by mesothelioma sufferers who want the most explicit care for the cancer.
An oncologist will diagnose your particular type of mesothelioma cancer. Subsequent to diagnosis, the oncologist will tailor a mesothelioma treatment plan depending on the type and stage of the cancer, as well as your overall health. Throughout the mesothelioma treatment process, you may meet with several mesothelioma specialists and undergo a litany of tests. Part of the mesothelioma specialist’s role is to affirm that all of the different doctors and procedures maintain a uniform goal—provide you with the best treatment possible.
What to Expect When Meeting with a Mesothelioma Specialist?
During your mesothelioma treatment, oncologists will run tests to evaluate which types of treatment are best. All medical professionals should perpetually monitor your general health and the progression of your mesothelioma cancer.
You can ask your oncologist questions any time during your mesothelioma treatment course. Your oncologist or mesothelioma specialist, in general, will explain the different forms of treatment or diagnostic procedures that you will be required to undergo. Your oncologist must also discuss the reasons as to why you are going through these tests or procedures. Moreover, the oncologist must elucidate the results of these examinations, as well as the general prognosis of your mesothelioma case. If there are any aspects of the procedures that you do not understand or would like to learn more about, you must not hesitate to ask your mesothelioma specialist for more detailed information.
Questions to Ask your Mesothelioma Specialist:
• How did I contract the mesothelioma cancer?
• Will any alternative treatments help?
• What is my mesothelioma prognosis?
• What kind of treatments are available to treat my mesothelioma cancer?
• Are there any clinical trials that I may qualify for?
• Is there any chance I can receive financial assistance for my medical costs associated with mesothelioma treatment?
• What support options can I undertake?
• How advanced is my mesothelioma cancer?
• How long have I been infected for?