What Is Mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma, often referred to simply as mesothelioma, is a type of cancer that affects the mesothelium — the protective lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart. It is caused by exposure to asbestos, a carcinogenic mineral that was used for decades in a number of industrial, commercial, military, and residential applications. Mesothelioma is the most severe of all asbestos-related illnesses.
Due to its long latency period — the time between exposure to asbestos and the development of the disease — mesothelioma is usually diagnosed at advanced stages and often occurs in older people. It is more common in men, especially those who worked in the automotive and construction industries or who served in the armed forces or as first responders, such as firefighters.
While the prognosis for mesothelioma has been historically poor, advancements in treatment options are offering patients newfound hope for longer survival and a better quality of life.
Due to the high number of occupational-exposure cases, patients may be eligible to receive discounted treatment or financial compensation.
Mesothelioma occurs as a result of inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers. Common symptoms may mimic the flu or pneumonia. These include shortness of breath, fever, chest pain, wheezing or a cough, and weight loss. Patients exhibiting symptoms should visit their doctor right away. The earlier mesothelioma is diagnosed, the better the prognosis, as more extensive treatment offerings are usually available.
Diagnosing mesothelioma is difficult, as its symptoms are often mistaken for other conditions. Doctors also struggle to diagnose the disease because of its rarity and because of its extremely long latency period. Imaging scans, blood tests, and biopsies are used when identifying the presence and stage of mesothelioma. Information gained from the diagnosis is also used to determine a treatment plan.
Types of Mesothelioma
There are three main types of mesothelioma: pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial. Pleural mesothelioma accounts for the majority of cases, followed by peritoneal mesothelioma. Pericardial mesothelioma is extremely uncommon, accounting for less than 5 percent of all cases. The location of mesothelial tumors in the body is a major determinant of courses of treatment.
Mesothelioma Tumor Cell Types
The type of cell present in mesothelioma tumors can significantly affect a patient’s prognosis and treatment options. Tumors are categorized either as epithelioid, sarcomatoid, or a combination of the two, referred to as biphasic.
Mesothelioma, like other cancers, is staged from 1 to 4. Stages 1 and 2 are less severe and more treatable. Advanced stages have a poor prognosis, as the disease becomes more difficult to treat.
- Stage 1
- Cancer is localized within the body
- Curative treatment options are generally available
- Average life expectancy of 21 months
- Stage 2
- Minimal metastasis (spreading) throughout the body
- Curative treatment options are generally still available
- Average life expectancy of 19 months
- Stage 3
- Cancer has spread to the lymph system and surrounding organs
- Fewer treatment options available, tends to be more palliative care
- Average life expectancy of 16 months
- Stage 4
- Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and distant organs
- Treatment options are strictly palliative at this stage
- Average life expectancy of 12 months
Treatment for mesothelioma varies, primarily based on the type, stage, and cell type of each patient’s unique case. Generally, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are used to create a specialized multimodal treatment plan. Curative treatment options may be available to patients diagnosed in stages 1 and 2, however, as the cancer advances, treatment options become limited to palliative care.
New treatments and advancements in current treatments offer mesothelioma patients hope of fighting the disease. As a patient, it’s important to seek specialized treatment right away. You may also be eligible for clinical trials that could potentially improve your prognosis. Learn more about mesothelioma treatment options.
Pleural vs. Peritoneal
Treatment is largely dependent on the location of mesothelioma tumors in the body. Pleural mesothelioma affects the lungs and tends to carry a worse prognosis than peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the abdomen. This is mainly due to less-effective treatment options available for pleural mesothelioma.
Palliative vs. Curative
When it comes to differences in care, curative treatment options aim to completely eradicate the cancer. Often this is only available in early-stage diagnoses. Palliative care refers to treatment options that seek to relieve patient pain and discomfort.
Mesothelioma Compensation and Benefits
Lawsuits and asbestos trusts
Negligent asbestos exposure accounts for half of all occupational cancer deaths. Unfortunately, asbestos companies and employers knew the dangers of asbestos and still placed the health of their employees at risk. Asbestos trust funds have been established to compensate victims of wrongful occupational exposure, totaling an estimated $37 billion. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be eligible for financial assistance to help recover lost wages and cover the burdensome costs of treatment. Learn more about mesothelioma legal compensation.
Veterans account for nearly 30 percent of all mesothelioma cases. Why so high? Asbestos was used extensively by the military during the mid-1900s in everything from ships and submarines to aircraft and even military barracks and mess halls. As a result, many service members (as well as civilian personnel) were exposed carcinogenic asbestos dust and fibers. If you served in the military and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness, you may be eligible to apply for VA benefits. Learn more about mesothelioma and veterans, including how to file a VA claim.