What is Mesothelioma and How Did I Get It?
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that makes up less than 0.3 percent of all cancer diagnoses in the U.S. The primary cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a toxic carcinogen. Although this disease peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, those exposed to asbestos are still at risk of developing mesothelioma in 2022.
What Causes Mesothelioma?
Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma development. Eight out of ten people with this condition have experienced some sort of asbestos exposure.
Asbestos is a mineral group containing tiny, microscopic fibers. These fibers are inhaled and travel through the body, causing inflammation and scarring. Asbestos damages healthy cells’ DNA, resulting in uncontrolled cell growth. Other than asbestos, other linked mesothelioma causes include zeolites, radiation, the SV40 virus, and genetics.
A common misconception is that smoking causes mesothelioma. Smoking does not increase the risk of mesothelioma. However, the combination of smoking and exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of certain types of cancer in the lungs.
How Much Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma?
Any asbestos exposure, no matter the length of exposure, poses a risk to one’s health. However, short-term exposure to asbestos presents a minor threat to one’s health.
On the other hand, short-term exposure to extremely high levels of asbestos can cause serious health issues. During the World Trade Center crisis, many first responders were unknowingly exposed to large amounts of asbestos in a very brief slice of time. Since 9/11, 150 responders have passed due to diseases relating to toxic dust. A higher risk is imposed when there are significant lengths of exposure to asbestos or other harmful carcinogens.
Risk Factors That Could Lead to Mesothelioma
Anyone with a history of asbestos exposure is at risk. However, the average mesothelioma patient is typically older than 65 with a military or blue-collar work background. Blue-collar workers are often exposed to asbestos for long periods, making it a significant health risk. Additionally, many U.S. Navy ships utilized asbestos products, posing a substantial threat to veterans on boats.
There are several occupations that pose a great risk of asbestos exposure, such as:
- Aerospace and aviation
- Asbestos abatement
- Asbestos mining
- Asbestos manufacturing
- Automotive repair
- Building occupant/bystander
- Petrochemical and refineries
- Power plant and utility
- Steel and ironworks
- Tire and rubber plants
Can Asbestos Exposure Cause Other Cancers?
Asbestos exposure primarily causes mesothelioma, but asbestos fibers can lead to other cancers as well. Asbestos can cause cancers of the lungs, larynx, and ovaries.
Since asbestos fibers are typically inhaled, they can plant themselves in the respiratory system, like the lungs and larynx.
Ovarian cancer is also linked to asbestos as many wives and daughters of blue-collar workers experience second-hand asbestos exposure. These women typically inhale or ingest the asbestos fibers, where they travel through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
Can Mesothelioma Be Treated?
Luckily, medical professionals can often treat mesothelioma in patients. Mesothelioma treatment is dependent on many variables such as a patient’s:
- General health
- Size of the mesothelioma
- Stage of cancer
- Type of mesothelioma
- Amount of fluid involved
There are three primary types of treatment: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Surgery involves removing the cancerous tissues inside the body. Radiation utilizes high-energy X-rays and other kinds of radiation to kill mesothelioma cells and stop them from growing. Chemotherapy uses drugs to halt the development of cancerous mesothelioma cells; this is typically done by killing the cells or preventing development.
How Is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?
According to the American Cancer Society, there are no recommended screening tests for mesothelioma cancer. This fact makes it difficult for doctors to diagnose mesothelioma early in development.
However, for people known to have been exposed to asbestos, it is often recommended to utilize regular tests like X-rays or CT scans. These imaging tests search for changes in the lungs and signs of early mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is often diagnosed after patients seek a medical professional with symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath. However, mesothelioma is often referred to as the silent killer as its symptoms aren’t always as obvious as they seem. This is because symptoms typically don’t show until the disease has already developed. Additionally, mesothelioma symptoms are similar to those of many other conditions which can lead to a misdiagnosis.
How Do I Find Mesothelioma Treatment?
Patients can often find treatment through their health professional and treatment team. There are several types of doctors that might be involved in your treatment plan such as:
- Thoracic surgeon
- Surgical oncologist
- Radiation oncologist
- Medical Oncologist
These medical professionals will be involved in your cancer program and can help you find the proper cancer treatment for your situation.
Because mesothelioma is so rare, many doctors are not sure how to treat the condition. However, there are medical centers that specialize in mesothelioma treatment. Many patients go to a specialized medical center to get a second opinion or receive care from a specialized doctor.
How Does Mesothelioma Spread?
There are several ways mesothelioma can spread, or metastasize, throughout the body.
Metastasis typically occurs when cancerous cells travel throughout the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other body parts. Once these cells have metastasized, they can take over organs and further develop tumors.
Several factors influence metastasis, such as:
- Cell Type
- Treatment Responses
- Mesothelioma Type
I Have Mesothelioma. Now What?
A mesothelioma diagnosis can be shocking and overwhelming. However, treatment is essential to increase the chance of mesothelioma survival. Additionally, you may qualify for legal compensation.
Asbestos Exposure Legal Options and Cases
Following a mesothelioma diagnosis, you may be qualified to take legal action. Those that were negligently exposed to asbestos are often entitled to legal compensation. You should speak with a qualified mesothelioma attorney to determine if you are entitled to financial compensation.
Additionally, if you are a survivor of a mesothelioma patient, you may be entitled to file a wrongful death suit.
Mesothelioma Medical Treatment Options
There are various treatment options for mesothelioma patients. Typical treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. However, there are several other routes to take if these treatment options are not suitable.
Other treatment options for patients include immunotherapy and targeted therapy. Immunotherapy utilizes a patient’s immune system to fight cancer, deploying healthy cells to fight cancerous ones. Targeted therapy is beneficial if a patient is looking for alternative medicine with less severe side effects. This treatment targets tumors and stops them from spreading, reducing the symptoms.
Additionally, clinical trials for mesothelioma continue to emerge. Discuss with your health professional to understand what clinical trials are right for you.