What is Malignant Mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma is a rare cancer (only 2,000 to 3,000 diagnoses per year) that disturbs the mesothelial cells of the serous membranes. Pleural mesothelioma, which is the most common form of this cancer, eats away at the lining of the lungs.
Malignant mesothelioma cancer destroys the membranes of large cavities in the body. Referred to as serous cavities, these tissues protect several organs in the body, including the heart and lungs. The tissues impacted by malignant mesothelioma cancer shield these organs from disturbances that arise from everyday movements, such as breathing.
There are a few types of malignant mesothelioma cancer:
Pericardial Mesothelioma Cancer: This form of mesothelioma cancer originates in the pericardium, which is the protective tissue that surrounds the heart.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Cancer: This form of mesothelioma cancer originates in the peritoneum, which is the protective membrane of the abdomen. An infrequent form of this mesothelioma cancer may also be found in the male testicles and more specifically the tissues that surround the scrotum.
Pleural Mesothelioma Caner: This form of mesothelioma cancer, as mentioned above, is the most common type of mesothelioma cancer. Pleural mesothelioma eats away at the lining of the lung cavity.
All types of mesothelioma cancer evolve from acute tumors. After the disease evolves, the carcinogens will rapidly proliferate to surrounding tissues and organs.
The majority of mesothelioma cases stem from prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers. That being said, because of the slow-developing nature of the disease, an individual in perpetual contact with asbestos minerals will not acknowledge the sickness until at least 30 to 50 years after the initial exposure.
All forms of malignant mesothelioma cancer are highly lethal. Once diagnosed, the average survival time is approximately 1 to 2 years. This gruesome statistic is derived from diagnostic complications. When detected, malignant mesothelioma is often evolved into its latter stages; the slow-developing symptoms and the cellular makeup of the disease complicate the diagnostic process.
Because of these complications it is necessary to routinely schedule physical examinations if you or a loved one has worked with asbestos-related materials in the past. Again, even if you do not feel ill, you should consult with medical professionals to undergo imaging tests to pinpoint any irregularities regarding your protective tissues and serous membranes.
What are the Early Symptoms Associated with Mesothelioma Cancer?
If you are feeling sick and have been exposed to asbestos containing materials in the past you must sincerely ask yourself: “what is causing my symptoms?” Prolonged exposure to asbestos should never be overlooked. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that was widely used in construction, ship-building and the automotive industry for its heat-resistant capabilities. Asbestos was cheap and efficient; however, it was quickly discovered that when inhaled over a long period of time, asbestos is a carcinogen. When left alone asbestos poses no threat to human beings. Only when the mineral is disturbed does it perpetuate severe problems.
When asbestos fragments are inhaled, they stick to the lining of the lungs and the serous brains. Eventually, tumors form as the filaments eat away at the body’s protective tissues and form cancerous tumors that can lead to mesothelioma. As stated before the development of mesothelioma cancer is a long process; a mesothelioma patient will not observe active mesothelioma symptoms for decades following their initial exposure to asbestos.
The slow-developing nature of mesothelioma cancer necessitates annual trips to a medical professional for all individuals who have had prolonged exposure to asbestos containing materials in the past.
If you are experiencing chest pains or difficulty breathing and have worked with asbestos in the past you must go to a doctor for imaging tests and/or a biopsy. Observable symptoms associated with malignant mesothelioma are absent in the majority of mesothelioma patients for first 30-50 years following asbestos exposure. This inconspicuousness leads to the disease’s late diagnosis. That being said, it is vital for prospective mesothelioma patients to seek regular diagnostic and imaging tests to help detect latent signs of mesothelioma development.
In rare instances, early mesothelioma symptoms replicate those of other cancers or medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, constipation, or emphysema. The first mesothelioma symptoms include persistent chest pains, severe coughing, unexpected weight loss, buildup of fluids in the lungs and chest, bowel obstruction, shortness of breath, night sweats, and swelling of the feet.
What is Causing My Symptoms?
The most common—and arguably the most painful—mesothelioma symptom results from an accumulation of the fluids between the parietal pleura and visceral pleura.
A Pleural effusion is caused by a disruption in the serous cavity. The membranes located in this cavity are lined with mesothelial cells. These cells are supposed to secrete fluids to lubricate and protect the cavity located between the lungs and chest wall. In a healthy person, an accumulation or excess fluids are absorbed into the bloodstream to allow the lymph nodes to avoid a buildup.
There are two types of pleural effusion: the common form, referred to as a transudative pleural effusion, secretes clear fluids into the space and occurs from an imbalance in the intake v. outtake of fluids. Transudative pleural effusion is most common in patients with congestive heart failures.
Exudative effusion, the other type of pleural effusion, is more common in mesothelioma patients. An exudative effusion is cloudy and comprised of cells, proteins and other fluids. With this symptom, the patient’s pleura will appear diseased and infected. To differentiate between the types of pleural effusion, a fluid sample must be extracted from the patient and subsequently tested.
Can I Treat My Pleural Effusion?
To ease the symptoms associated with malignant mesothelioma, a medical professional may remove the build-up of excess fluid by operating on the pleural space. This procedure is relatively simple, requiring only local anesthesia. Referred to as pleurodesis, a surgeon will inject talc into the congregation of fluid in the lungs. The American Cancer Society believes that Talc irritates the membranes causing them to swell and adhere to one another. When a bond is formed, the opening in the membrane is eliminated making the region impermeable to a build-up of fluids.
Another operation to mitigate the effects of pleural effusion is referred to as a pleurocentesis. This is a simple outpatient procedure that only lasts 30 minutes. During a pleurocentesis, a surgeon will inject a long needle through the patient’s lung by way of the patient’s chest cavity. The needle is then used to drain the excess fluid residing in the space.
What are Some Other Symptoms Associated with Malignant Mesothelioma Cancer:
Common malignant mesothelioma symptoms include the following:
• Persistent cough
• Pleural Effusions with traces as blood
• Difficulty swallowing
• Coughing up blood
• Chronic fatigue
• Night sweats
• Shortness of breath
• Development of lumps
• Persistent pain in the ribs and chest area
• Painful breathing
• Unexplained and severe weight loss
The majority of malignant mesothelioma symptoms arise from the thickening of the serous membrane—protective tissues surrounding the lungs. The thickening is caused by the proliferation and overall development of the mesothelioma cells. This cellular transformation leads to a build-up of fluids in the pleural region, yielding the aforementioned mesothelioma symptoms.
The aforementioned mesothelioma symptoms are most common in pleural mesothelioma cases. The second most common form of mesothelioma (peritoneal mesothelioma) develops in the peritoneum (tissues surrounding the abdomen). Symptoms associated with peritoneal mesothelioma include:
• Vomiting or Nausea
• Severe and unexplained weight loss
• Shooting pains in the abdomen
• Buildup of fluids between the abdominal organs and the peritoneum
• Developments of lumps under the abdomen or on the skin
• Constipation, diarrhea or any other change in the bowel system
Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms derive from the thickening of membranes that surround the abdomen. Similar to pleural mesothelioma cancer, the disease evolves from the rapid proliferation of carcinogens. This transformation promotes a build-up of fluids between the membrane layers, placing pressure on the abdomen and perpetuating these mesothelioma symptoms.
What Causes Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms?
Pericardial mesothelioma cancer is exceedingly rare; the disease develops in less than 5% of mesothelioma patients. This type of malignant mesothelioma forms in the membranes which surround the heart. Common symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma cancer are brought on by a thickening of the pericardial membranes and subsequent fluid buildups. These symptoms include:
• Chest Pains
• Irregular heartbeats, heart palpitations
• Fever or Sweating
• Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
Because this type of mesothelioma cancer is rare, its symptoms are not widely recognized, ultimately making pericardial mesothelioma difficult to diagnose. The complexities associated with diagnosis make treating this condition exceedingly difficulty, leading to a pessimistic prognosis for this particular form of mesothelioma.
What is causing my Testicular Mesothelioma Symptoms?
Testicular mesothelioma cancer is an extremely rare medical condition. As such, widespread testicular mesothelioma symptoms are relatively unknown. Presently, the only universal testicular mesothelioma symptoms are swelling in the testicles and the forming of lumps in the scrotum.
In most instances, testicular mesothelioma lumps are only discovered when a mesothelioma patient undergoes surgery for other reasons.
What Happens to my Mesothelioma Symptoms if the Cancer Spreads?
Mesothelioma symptoms will intensify when the cancer moves away from the acute location where it was formed. When the carcinogens travel to other areas of the body, new tumors form. As it metastasizes the cancer eats away at the body’s protective tissues, promoting the corruption of vital organs. Proliferation of malignant mesothelioma occurs when the cancer cells travel into the lymph vessels and bloodstream then subsequently, allowing free access to other areas of the body.
Roughly 50% of all mesothelioma cases end up spreading throughout the body. Furthermore, because most mesothelioma cases are not diagnosed until the disease reaches its 3rd or 4th stage, it is common for the cancer to spread to vital organs. When this occurs, the disease is rendered inoperable.
Symptoms Associated with Proliferation Include:
• Coughing/Spitting up blood
• Neurological problems/syndromes
• Horners Syndrome
• Laryngeal nerve palsy
• Nerve involvement of the arm
If the cancer proliferates to the spinal canal (a rare occurrence) paraplegia may occur. This condition will cause clubbing of the fingers and HPOA.
When Will I Notice These Mesothelioma Symptoms?
As previously mentioned, because the latency period may take 25 to 50 years, the majority of mesothelioma symptoms will not be present for decades after the patient’s initial exposure to asbestos. In a recent study of 217 male mesothelioma patients and 21 female patients, the time period between initial asbestos exposure and diagnosis was formally detected in 191 of the 238 cases. The average latency period for these mesothelioma cases was 48 and one half years with a range of 18 to 70 years.
The study reveals no statistical difference between the latency periods for pleural verses peritoneal mesothelioma cases (48.6 versus 45.9 cases respectively). Furthermore, there is no statistical difference between individuals who are also plagued with asbestosis. Conversely, the study shows a longer latency period for female sufferers (53.3 years compared to 47.9).
The average age for diagnosis was 70.3 years with a range of 34 to 92. The age for peritoneal mesothelioma diagnosis was slightly younger (65.4 years versus 70.6).
The study concludes that the most efficient method in combatting mesothelioma cancer is early detection. If mesothelioma is caught in its early stages (stage I or II) the chance of curing or extracting the cancer is possible.