Welcome to part two of our five-part blog series: The Mesothelioma Journey – Early Symptoms of Mesothelioma. Follow along each week as we recreate the mesothelioma journey of Allen, a 65-year-old from Corpus Christi, Texas. We follow Allen’s journey from the first contact with asbestos to life after treatment.
Read part one of the Mesothelioma Journey: Early Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Exposure to Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma
The leading cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral mined and manufactured into products for extra heat protection and fireproofing. Prolonged exposure to the mineral causes asbestos-related conditions such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. After prolonged exposure, it usually takes 20-60 years for early symptoms of mesothelioma to first occur.
Many mesothelioma patients encountered the mineral on the job or during their military service. The use of the mineral peaked in the 1970s, right before the International Agency for Research on Cancer recognized asbestos as a carcinogen or cancer-causing substance. Not everyone exposed to asbestos will develop cancer, but prolonged exposure increases the likelihood of it occurring.
Allen, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and retired shipyard worker, was exposed to asbestos frequently throughout his 40-year career. Over time, Allen inhaled tiny asbestos fibers which became lodged into the lining of his chest, known as the mesothelium.
While it’s been decades since he was first exposed to asbestos, the fibers slowly began damaging parts of his body. For years, Allen never experienced any symptoms of mesothelioma. Recently, however, he began experiencing mild chest pain, difficulty breathing, and painful coughs.
The Onset of Mesothelioma Symptoms
It often takes decades before Mesothelioma symptoms appear following prolonged asbestos exposure. The latency period is the time between exposure and the development of mesothelioma.
The damage that was done to Allen’s body likely started while serving in the military. As he inhaled loose asbestos fibers found throughout several areas aboard Navy ships, the fibers remained trapped inside his chest.
The result of the inhalation caused inflammation, irritation, and scarring prompted his body to lubricate the area with fluid. The accumulation of fluid caused the cells to mutate into malignant cells.
Once cancer develops, a range of adverse reactions can occur. Not all patients experience the same symptoms as the stage of illness, overall health, and age all play significant roles in the severity.
Where Mesothelioma Symptoms Occur
Mesothelioma can occur at different sites. The most common sites of mesothelioma are the pleura, the peritoneum, and the pericardium. The pleura lines the lungs, the peritoneum lines the abdomen, and the pericardium lines the heart. Each site has different symptoms, or “warning signs.”
Allen begins experiencing symptoms around his chest cavity. We can expect at this point that he is experiencing pleural mesothelioma symptoms. His chest pain, difficulty breathing, and painful coughing all indicated a problem in his chest area.
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of mesothelioma and makes up around 80 percent of cases. Other symptoms include anemia, back pain, body aches, coughing up blood, difficulty swallowing, fatigue, weight loss, wheezing, and other respiratory ailments.
Peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for almost all other cases of mesothelioma and reveals symptoms associated with the abdomen, including abdominal pain, swelling, bloating, body aches, bowel obstruction, constipation, diarrhea, weight loss or gain, and vomiting.
Pericardial mesothelioma accounts for a small percentage of cases and is associated with the growth of tumors around the heart. Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma include body aches, chest pain, fatigue, fever, fluid buildup around the heart, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.
Early Symptoms of Mesothelioma Leads to Cancer Diagnosis
Allen becomes frustrated with uncomfortable and even painful symptoms. He has scheduled an appointment with his doctor, but Allen attempts to manage his symptoms on his own through extra sleep, breathing exercises, and extra fluid intake.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer and cannot be managed without the help of medical experts. After undergoing numerous tests, Allen learns that he has cancer.