Malignant mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is linked exclusively with asbestos exposure. Malignant mesothelioma can occur in the mesothelial tissue lining of the chest (pleural mesothelioma), abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma) or heart (pericardial mesothelioma). The three types of mesothelioma cancer (pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma and pericardial mesothelioma) are divided into three histological classifications based on their specific cell structures: epitheliod mesothelioma, sarcomatoid mesothelioma or biphasic mesothelioma. To date, there is no cure for any form of malignant mesothelioma cancer and victims usually die within two years of diagnosis.
Malignant Mesothelioma Symptoms
Malignant mesothelioma symptoms are very similar from one mesothelioma type to the next. Mesothelioma symptoms may not become apparent until many years after initial exposure to asbestos.
Patients usually experience general difficulty in breathing (dyspnea), pain in the chest, or both. Other signs of the disease include hoarseness, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) or coughing up blood (hemoptysis). Other symptoms typical of all types of mesothelioma cancer include loss of appetite, nausea and weight loss. Those who have these symptoms or know someone who does are encouraged to seek medical help immediately.
Diagnosis of Malignant Mesothelioma Cancer
A complete medical examination must be completed before making a mesothelioma diagnosis. A patient may be asked to provide fluid and tissue samples. Imaging is also a common part of the diagnostic process. Imaging tests include x rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and positron emission tomography or PET. Doctors use both sampling and imaging techniques to make the mesothelioma diagnosis process easier and to help distinguish malignant mesothelioma cancer from other diseases such as asbestos lung cancer or asbestosis.
Stages of Malignant Mesothelioma Cancer
Once malignant mesothelioma is found, more tests can be administered to determine if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. This process is called mesothelioma staging. A doctor needs to know the stage of cancer to plan treatment. The following stages are used for malignant mesothelioma cancer.
"Localized" Malignant Mesothelioma Cancer
Stage I: Cancer is found in the lining of the chest cavity near the lung, heart, in the diaphragm or the lung.
"Advanced" Malignant Mesothelioma Cancer
Stage II: Cancer has spread beyond the lining of the chest to lymph nodes in the chest.
Stage III: Cancer has spread into the chest wall, center of the chest, heart, through the diaphragm or abdominal lining, and in some cases into nearby lymph nodes.
Stage IV: Cancer has spread to distant organs or tissues.
Treating Malignant Mesothelioma Cancer
There are a variety of mesothelioma treatments for patients suffering from the rare asbestos cancer; however, none have proven capable of providing more than a brief extension of life or symptomatic relief. Some procedures are more invasive or recently developed than others, but a patient's options basically boil down to the utilization of one or more (multimodal therapy) of the following:
- Surgery (taking out the cancer)
- Radiation therapy (using high-dose x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells)
- Chemotherapy (using drugs to fight the cancer)
Asbestosis: Another Fatal Disease Caused by Asbestos Exposure
Asbestosis is a breathing disorder caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Prolonged accumulation of these fibers in the lungs can lead to scarring of lung tissue and diminished breathing capacity. Signs and symptoms of asbestosis usually do not appear until years after exposure. But once apparent, the condition often worsens and can lead to disability and even death.
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