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. Asbestos is 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. First responders, such as firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and EMTs, also have an increased risk of developing the disease.
Doctors diagnose 3,300 new cases of mesothelioma each year.
More About Mesothelioma
The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. When inhaled, tiny asbestos fibers become lodged in the body’s mesothelium. Years after initial exposure, these have the potential to form malignancies. Learn more about what causes mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma occurs as a result of inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers. Common symptoms may mirror less severe conditions, such as 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 it is diagnosed, the better the prognosis, as more extensive treatment offerings are usually available. Learn more about the symptoms of mesothelioma.
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. Doctors use imaging scans, blood tests, and biopsies when identifying the presence and stage of cancer. A biopsy is the only definitive way to diagnose it. It is important to get a second opinion when going through the diagnostic process. Learn more about how doctors diagnose mesothelioma.
Types of Mesothelioma
There are three primary types of mesothelioma: pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial. Pleural accounts for the majority of cases, followed by peritoneal. Pericardial 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. Learn more about the three types of 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. Learn more about mesothelioma tumor cell types.
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
The stage at which you are diagnosed can affect your treatment options and prognosis. Learn more about the four stages of mesothelioma.
Treatment for mesothelioma varies, primarily based on the type, stage, and cell type of each patient’s unique case. Generally, doctors combine chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to create a specialized multimodal treatment plan. 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.
New treatments and advancements in current treatments offer patients hope of fighting the disease.
Patients should 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.
Improve Your Prognosis
Your overall health can have a significant impact on your mesothelioma prognosis and life expectancy. Some ways to improve your prognosis include a healthy diet, exercise, and reducing stress. Learn more about how lifestyle changes may help improve your prognosis.
Financial Compensation and Veterans 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 exist to compensate victims of wrongful occupational exposure, totaling an estimated $37 billion. If you or a loved one has 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? The military used asbestos extensively 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) encountered carcinogenic asbestos dust and fibers. If you served in the military and have 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.