Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that develops on the protective lining around the lungs, abdomen, and heart. It is caused by exposure to asbestos and can take 20-50 years to develop.
Men comprise 81% of pleural cases and 56% of peritoneal cases.
Malignant mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Sharp asbestos fibers cause mesothelial cells to mutate and become cancerous when inhaled or ingested. It takes around 20-50 years after exposure to asbestos for mesothelioma to develop.
The most common products that contain asbestos include:
Since asbestos was widely used in industrial and commercial products, a large number of individuals have been exposed to this toxic substance in the workplace.
Asbestos was extensively used in every branch of the military due to its insulating and fire retardant properties. Veterans who worked as boilerman, pipefitters, mechanics and welders had the highest risk of exposure.
Family members can inhale asbestos fibers and dust carried into the home on work clothes. This is referred to as "secondary" or "take home" exposure.
Early symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to more common diseases such as pneumonia, the flu, or irritable bowel syndrome. Due to the long latency period associated with this cancer, symptoms dont usually appear until tumors have progressed. Symptoms vary based on the type of mesothelioma diagnosed.
Dry cough, weight loss, difficulty swallowing, general fatigue
have abdominal fluid buildup
Abdominal pain, bowel irregularity, general fatigue, seizures (10% of patients)
Shortness of breath
Many patients are diagnosed with mesothelioma after exhibiting a persistent cough, pneumonia-like symptoms, or fluid buildup. Because this type of cancer has a long latency period, its symptoms often appear without warning.
When a patient exhibits persistent symptoms, a doctor will suggest a series of tests. These tests will determine the type and stage of the cancer.
Diagnostic testing includes:
Average Age at Diagnosis
Mesothelioma cancer can be made up of 3 different cell variations, each with their own effects on a patients prognosis:
Staging determines cancers severity and also indicates which treatment options are available. Cancer stages assign a number between 1 and 4 to the disease, with stage 1 being the least severe and stage 4 being the most progressed.
Based on the stage of the patients disease, specialists either prescribe treatments to remove the cancer, offer chemotherapy to extend life expectancy, or simply focus on limiting patient discomfort.
About 40% of mesothelioma patients have a one-year prognosis. A patients prognosis is often based on stage, cell type, and their overall health. Women and younger patients have a better life expectancy than older men.
There are several steps patients can take to improve their prognosis.
Seeing a specialist is the most important way to improve your prognosis. Surgeons and oncologists who specialize in treating mesothelioma are vital components of your treatment plan and prognosis.
Patients should explore all available treatment options. This includes treatments such as immunotherapy, clinical trials, and multimodal treatment regimens that involve a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
A nutrient-rich diet and active lifestyle play a significant role in how patients feel before, during, and after treatment.
Researchers estimate the one-year survival rate for mesothelioma to be about 40%. However, survival is impacted by many factors including treatments, cell type, overall health, and metastasis.
Everybody is different and their bodies react different to the treatment available. Try not to focus too much on the statistics but focus on you and how you deal with the treatments.
Selecting a mesothelioma specialist is one of the most important decisions a patient can make. General oncologists do not have much experience in treating mesothelioma because only 3,000 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
A specialist can:
Treatment prescribed by a specialist can significantly extend a patients life. Not every specialist treats every type of mesothelioma. Depending on the stage, type, location, severity and more, certain specialists are a better fit than others.
What Others Are Saying About Us
My wife and I so appreciate how Jenna was able to make us not feel lost and alone. She thoroughly understood our situation, verified that we were taking the right steps, explained other steps to take, provided recommendations for specialists, and explained many services that the Mesothelioma Guide can provide. She helped put our minds at ease
Mesothelioma treatment isnt one size fits all. Specialists choose from a variety of cancer treatment options depending on the location of the disease, the cell type, and the personal medical history of the patient. For the best treatment, find a cancer center with experience in mesothelioma treatment and research.
Surgery is the only treatment option known to significantly extend life and virtually every mesothelioma patient who has lived more than five years has had surgery.
The first-line chemotherapy drugs approved by the FDA to treat mesothelioma are Alimta and Cisplatin, often used together and in conjunction with surgery as a multimodal approach to improve a patients prognosis.
Radiation treatment is often used to slow the growth and progression of mesothelioma in conjunction with other methods like surgery and chemotherapy. It is also used to reduce pain with tumor growth.
Specialists will use a combination of different treatment methods to improve a patients prognosis. Radiation and chemotherapy are often used before, during, or after surgery to help reduce the chance of a recurrence and improve a patients overall survival.
Clinical trials are an additional option to consider for patients who have exhausted other treatments. Immunotherapy drugs are currently being offered in clinical trials.
Some survivors credit alternative health options as instrumental in their recovery and reduction of side effects. Examples include yoga, meditation, and acupuncture.
Jenna Campagna is a registered nurse and a mesothelioma patient advocate. She helps patients discuss their treatment options, offers ways to receive novel treatments that may still be in clinical trials, and finds doctors who are open to multimodal surgical options.
Most veterans with mesothelioma are eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Two financial benefits available to veterans are Disability Compensation for veterans primarily exposed in the military, while Pension is for non-service related mesothelioma cases. Family members and dependents can also receive financial assistance.
In addition, the VA has contracted with two world-renowned thoracic surgeons who provide specialized mesothelioma treatment to any veteran enrolled in the VA Health Care system.
What Others Are Saying About Us
In my mail today I received a letter from the VA with their decision about my DIC claim. I looked at the balance in my bank account and found that I have already received the payment for the first four months of back pay, plus the regular August 1 payment for July. I am blown away by this and cannot thank you enough, Carl, for all your help in filing this claim. Thank you.
Show Sources & Author
Jenna Campagna is a registered nurse and patient advocate who is passionate about helping mesothelioma patients navigate their health care. She has over seven years of experience working with patients diagnosed with rare diseases including mesothelioma. Jenna is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators and her goal is to connect patients to top mesothelioma specialists, treatment facilities, and clinical trials. Through her writing, she aims to simplify the complicated journey through mesothelioma by offering helpful tips and advice.
Last Edited: March 26, 2019.
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