What Are Complications?
Complications are unanticipated conditions caused by a disease, treatment, procedure, or some combination of those. Complications can mean that someone who’s been diagnosed with cancer, such as mesothelioma, must persevere through unexpected developments along with their regular cancer treatment. Fortunately, speaking with a specialist and familiarizing yourself with potential complications can help a patient feel more prepared and less intimidated by their prognosis.
Complications will typically revolve around a specific area or condition, depending on the treatment plan that the patient is following. Given that asbestos usually affects the pleural mesothelium, breathing (respiratory) complications are the most common among patients with malignant mesothelioma. What does malignant mean? The word malignant refers to cancerous cells or tumors. So, what is a malignant tumor? Malignant tumors are abnormal cancer cells that spread rapidly invading different parts of the body which may cause different types of complications in malignant mesothelioma patients.
The most common complications to develop from mesothelioma involve the respiratory system. This is because pleural mesothelioma, which affects the pleura surrounding the lungs, accounts for 85% of mesothelioma diagnoses. Respiratory complications are a frequent occurrence in mesothelioma diagnosis and why victims of mesothelioma need to seek the help of a specialist.
Shortness of Breath
People diagnosed with mesothelioma may experience shortness of breath for a variety of reasons. The most common reason being the growth of tumors on the pleural lining that surrounds the lungs could prevent them from taking full breaths. It’s also a common symptom of other complications or related conditions. Causes can include:
- Pleural Effusion
- Pericardial Effusion
- Collapsed Lung
- Respiratory Distress
While some of these complications may seem benign on the surface, they could be dangerous if left untreated.
Along with being a potential complication of treatment, pleural effusion is also a condition related to mesothelioma. Sometimes referred to as “water-on-the-lungs,” pleural effusion is a build-up of fluid between layers of the lungs. This is something a doctor can resolve with a simple procedure, but it’s likely going to be a recurring problem.
Pericardial effusion develops when fluid builds up in the pericardium, or the sac surrounding the heart. Usually, there’s already a thin layer of liquid in this space, but if the pericardium becomes injured or diseased, subsequent inflammation can lead to excess fluid. Along with being a potential complication of treatment, pericardial effusion can be also a condition related to mesothelioma. This is something a doctor can resolve with a surgical procedure, but it’s likely going to be a recurring problem.
Though there is some debate as to what causes rounded atelectasis, better known as a partially collapsed lung, the condition is typically attributed to part of the lung not fully expanding. Some specialists have theorized that this is a result of pleural effusion and pleural thickening. In almost every case, however, it occurs in patients with a history of asbestos exposure.
A fully collapsed lung, or pneumothorax, is a result of a build-up of air within the chest cavity but outside of the lung. This is a rare condition for patients with mesothelioma but is still possible. It can also happen after the drainage of pleural fluid or pleural biopsy.
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Complications from Treatment
The ultimate goal of treating any condition is to help the patient while relieving their pain. However, some treatments can trigger complications in mesothelioma patients. These include raising the risk of infection or strain on the body. Patients who communicate openly with their doctor can mitigate these risk factors and avoid unnecessary complications.
Possible Complications from Surgery
Performing surgery on patients with mesothelioma can create issues down the line, depending on how far their mesothelioma has progressed. Before performing any surgery, doctors will look at the patient’s age, health, extent, and type of mesothelioma, and prognosis to determine the best course of action. However, at times, there are unavoidable procedures that could cause complications with the patient. Possible complications as a result of surgery include:
- Pulmonary Edema
- Pulmonary Embolus
- Bronchial Air Leaks
- Mediastinal Shift
- Lung Collapse
- Hemothorax or Pneumothorax
- Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome
- Chest wall pain
While it is typical for the physical strain of surgery to result in some pain that can be mitigated, there are cases where the pain could be a symptom of a complication. If someone experiences any pain or discomfort after surgery, they should speak with their doctor to get to the bottom of it.
Possible Complications from Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy, though invaluable to the treatment of mesothelioma, has also been known to weaken the patient. This is a result of the chemo medication being unable to determine which cells are healthy and which have become cancerous. Possible complications from chemotherapy include:
- Hair loss
- Weakened immune system and increased risk of infections
- Nausea and vomiting
- Respiratory Infections
- Myelosuppression that causes anemia, low platelets or low white blood cell count
There are multiple ways for doctors to mitigate complications related to chemotherapy. Keeping an open dialogue with the administering doctor can catch complications early on and prevent them from becoming more significant issues down the road.
Possible Complications from Radiation
Similar to chemotherapy, radiation is something that has become somewhat of a staple in mesothelioma treatment. New advances are improving the scope and accuracy of radiation, allowing oncologists to target smaller areas without affecting the entire body. Still, radiation therapy can cause the following complications:
- Radiation pneumonitis
- Chronic radiation fibrosis
- Skin irritation or burn
Though less common, a specialist can identify potential complications before they become more severe. There are multiple ways for doctors to mitigate complications related to radiation therapy.
Possible Complications from Immunotherapy
Another anti-cancer treatment option with potential complications is a targeted mesothelioma treatment called immunotherapy. Since this is a targeted treatment, however, and therapies are applied directly to the tumor site, there’s less of a chance for serious complications. But they do happen.
Even when complications do occur, they tend to be less severe due to the focused nature of most immunotherapies. One complication that can affect patients who’ve undergone immunotherapy is pneumonitis. In fact, this is a more common complication that can also affect patients who receive radiation or chemotherapy. An infectious respiratory illness, pneumonitis is a complication that impacts all three anti-cancer therapy processes. This is because all have the common side effect of causing lungs and surrounding tissues to be inflamed, which causes the complication of pneumonitis if the inflammation also gets infected.
Any complication that arises from mesothelioma can raise the cost of treatment unexpectedly. Help from asbestos trust funds and legal action can cover these costs. Reaching out to a mesothelioma lawyer can help you or a loved one receive the compensation needed to cover the costs of treatment.