Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer where the malignant cells spread in the mesothelium, or the membrane that surrounds most of your internal organs. There are two major kinds of mesothelium, defined according to their location. The mesothelium protecting the organs in your abdomen is called peritoneum while the one that protects your lungs and chest cavity is called the pleura. Most mesothelioma starts in these areas and metastasizes to spread to other organs unless prevented by early diagnosis.
Causes. Mesothelioma occurs if you have had long-term exposure to airborne particles of asbestos while working in industrial factories which make cement, roofing, insulation, flooring materials, etc. Incidence reports have shown that most cases of mesothelioma come from asbestos workers. So to lessen their risk of getting the disease, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued specific guidelines and safety measures for asbestos workers. They have to wear special masks and a different set of clothes for working. To prevent their families from getting exposed as well, workers are required to bathe first and have a clean set of clothes before leaving the place of work. However, not all cases have had long-term exposure with asbestos particles, but have still developed the disease.
Symptoms. Some of the symptoms observed by medical experts are: shortness of breath and pain in the chest area if in the pleura; weight loss, abdominal pain, swelling, and bowel obstruction if in the peritoneum. This is due to the water accumulation in the mesothelium, and is usually difficult to diagnose because of similarities with other diseases, like lung cancer. The doctor must have access to the patient's occupational and medical history to see the exposure to asbestos. Most cases take 30-50 years for symptoms to first appear. Diagnosis is done with a complete physical examination, including, x-ray, CAT scan, MRI. If it cannot be confirmed using these, the doctor may also perform a biopsy to get a tissue sample, to be able to make a prognosis before treatment.
Treatment. The type of treatment that will be used would depend on your age, general health, and location and severity of disease. There are four options (which may be combined) for treatment, namely surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
- Thoracentesis or paracentesis is performed on the chest or abdomen respectively to remove the fluid that has built up in the region to relieve the pain. This however, is only temporary. One of the other three treatments must also be used.
- Surgery is the most common, where the doctor may remove the lining of the infected area. If the infected area is in the lung, the doctor may remove a lung or the diaphragm.
- With radiation therapy, the radiation can emit from a machine to shrink the cancer cells, or it could be internal by putting the radiation directly on the affected area via thin plastic tubes.
- Chemotherapy is the type of therapy to cure cancer that deals with injecting chemicals directly into the body to eliminate the malignant cells. Doctors are studying the effects of injecting the medicine directly into the patient’s chest or abdomen, and findings are positive.
Given the causes and symptoms, it is better to take preventive measures now rather than to find out too late. If you fear that you may have one of the symptoms mentioned earlier, consult with your doctor.