Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. It usually forms in the lungs of those who have been exposed to this deadly toxin, but sometimes occurs in the abdominal area. There are a number of therapies available that can help prolong survival and minimize symptoms and discomfort.
Mesothelioma specifically impacts a thin membrane that protects the lungs, heart and organs within the abdominal cavity and enables them to function properly. Approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the United States every year. In most cases, these victims’ exposure took place on the job.
Exposure to asbestos is on the decline, but people continue to be diagnosed with mesothelioma at the same level as has been true for decades. This is because the disease has what is known as a long latency period. This means that the amount of time that can pass between the time of exposure to asbestos and the time that symptoms begin to appear can be as long as fifty years.
It is an unfortunate reality that though medical science has made great strides in understanding how mesothelioma progresses and in various ways to prolong and improve the lives of those who have been diagnosed with the condition, it is still considered an incurable and usually fatal disease.
The Link Between Asbestos and Cancer
In most cases, asbestos exposure that causes mesothelioma takes place on the job. Mesothelioma has traditionally impacted a wide variety of occupational settings, including industrial environments, school yards, auto repair shops, shipyards and municipal or public buildings. In most cases it takes an extended exposure to the toxin for cancer to form, but there have been notable instances in which people have been diagnosed with mesothelioma after single instances of exposure, as well as short-term exposures.
Asbestos gets into the body through microscopic fibers that are either inhaled or ingested. Because these particles are so tiny and become embedded in cells so easily, they tend to remain in place for many years. Over time, the asbestos fibers cause mutations to occur within the cells in which they are embedding. These mutations cause inflammation and other damage, and their impact tends to be greatest in the delicate, thin lining that forms around the lungs.
This lining is called the pleura. The lining of the abdominal cavity known as the peritoneum is similarly vulnerable, and is also a common location for the cancer to form. Once the scarring and inflammation process begins it goes on for several decades, continuing until it has formed into malignant mesothelioma tumors.
Types of Mesothelioma
The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which forms in the lining of the lungs and makes up approximately 75 percent of all diagnosed cases. The second most common form of mesothelioma is peritoneal, which accounts for between ten and twenty percent of cases, while another one percent of cases form in the pericardium. Even fewer are known to form in the testicles.
Pleural Mesothelioma: This type of mesothelioma impacts the lining of the lungs. Because it is most common, the majority of research into treatment has focused on this type.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma: This type of mesothelioma impacts the lining of the abdominal cavity. This type of mesothelioma accounts for less than 25 percent of all cases. Successful therapies have recently been developed involving a combination of surgical debulking and chemotherapeutic treatment.
Pericardial Mesothelioma: This extremely rare form of mesothelioma occurs in just one percent of all diagnosed cases. It is extremely difficult to treat because of the proximity of the disease to the heart.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
One of the most difficult aspects mesothelioma is the fact that its initial symptoms are so subtle and benign that in many cases they are ignored. As the disease slowly progresses into more advanced stages these mild symptoms become more pronounced and expand to include moderate pain and overall malaise or fatigue. By the time that mesothelioma’s symptoms become so pronounced that a visit to the doctor is scheduled, it has already entered its later stages.
Depending upon the type of mesothelioma, symptoms of advanced disease can include pain around the site of the tumor, unexplained weight loss, constipation caused by bowel obstruction and a buildup of fluid in the chest or abdomen. There are a number of therapies available to relieve these symptoms.
There are a number of different methodologies used in diagnosing mesothelioma, and the one that is used in a specific case often depends upon how the disease has presented itself, the location of the tumor, and how advanced it is at the time of diagnosis. In most cases, a confirmed diagnosis comes from a combination of biopsies, laboratory studies and imaging studies such as MRI or X-Rays.
There are a number of different therapies and courses of action that can be taken in treating mesothelioma. The most common of these are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and in many cases a multi-modality approach that uses more than one of these is used and has been found to provide the most promising results.
In addition to providing treatment in order to prolong survival, many of the therapies used for mesothelioma patients have the goal of providing relief from symptoms. These are known as palliative treatments, and they may be used for patients in all stages of the disease. There are also a number of alternative therapies being used to provide relief, and researchers are pursuing a number of experimental programs through clinical trials. These include immunotherapy, gene therapy and photodynamic therapies.
Surgery for Mesothelioma: Surgery is offered with two separate goals in mind – it can be either curative or palliative. Curative therapy is generally offered to the healthiest patients who are in the disease’s earliest stages, while palliative is meant for late stage treatments to provide relief from uncomfortable or painful symptoms.
Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma: Chemotherapy uses chemicals and medications to attack cancer cells. It can both shrink the tumors and kill the cells, thus stopping the spread of the disease as well as providing relief from pain and discomfort.
Radiation for Mesothelioma
Though radiation can be used alone to shrink mesothelioma tumors or kill cancer cells, it is most frequently effectively used alongside surgery and/or chemotherapy
Finding the Right Physician
Though mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer there are many highly skilled specialists who have dedicated themselves to its treatment. These surgeons, radiologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists and palliative care practitioners often work collaboratively on a special mesothelioma treatment team.
Finding the Right Facility
Just as it is important to seek out physicians who have specialized training in treating mesothelioma, it is helpful to seek treatment from centers that have a wide range of experience in treating this rare disease. There are a number of highly respected mesothelioma treatment centers located across the country who are staffed with some of the world’s most skilled mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease practitioners.
Clinical Trials and Research
Despite the seriousness of the disease, mesothelioma receives very little federal funding for research, but there are a number of clinical trials being conducted in an effort to find a cure or more effective treatments. Researchers from around the world engage in these studies in order to help find medications and therapies that will eradicate this rare disease.
Paying for Mesothelioma Treatment
Mesothelioma treatment can be extremely expensive, and as a result it is essential that anybody who has been impacted by the disease avail themselves of all resources, including financial and legal avenues. In many cases the treatment that may be best for your particular case may not be fully funded by your insurance coverage, and for those patients without medical insurance the financial impact can be even more devastating.
Mesothelioma trusts are financial resources for those exposed to asbestos on the job. They are established by corporations found responsible for asbestos injuries to their employees and to others.
Veterans Affairs Benefits
Those whose asbestos exposure was a result of service in the United States military, may be eligible for benefits that help with their expenses.
In trying to determine the expected course of a diagnosis of mesothelioma, much is based on the stage of the cancer. Though treatment options exist at both early and late stages, in most cases those whose condition is diagnosed earliest have the best overall prognosis. Still, there are many factors that can determine the outcome of a particular case, including the type of mesothelioma, the type of cell that the mesothelioma is made up of, the stage at the time of diagnosis, and the patients’ overall health.
Though they are few, there are a number of individuals who have been able to survive for many years after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Their stories are inspiring and provide a great deal of encouragement to both patients and their families and loved ones.
Mesothelioma and Legal Action
Once mesothelioma is diagnosed, the primary focus is necessarily on medical treatment, but it is also important to remember that there are legal options and rights available as well. Because mesothelioma is generally caused by occupational exposure it may be possible to file a claim with a mesothelioma trust fund in order to get reimbursement for medical expenses from those responsible for the exposure.
Lawsuits can also be filed, and may be settled outside of court or in front of a judge or jury. In many cases these legal actions can result in much-needed resources to help pay for medical bills and provide for the victim’s family’s financial security.
People who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma are often able to file lawsuits and win them because of the fact that their disease is preventable and was caused by the negligence of others. The history of asbestos exposure includes a number of corporations, asbestos mining companies and other employers who did not notify their employees about the dangers of asbestos exposure despite having been aware of it.
This failure to notify and protect often puts them at fault. An experienced mesothelioma attorney will be able to tell you about the options that are available to you, and what your rights may be.
Settling a Mesothelioma Claim: In most cases, lawsuits that are filed against defendants for asbestos exposure are settled out of court. Though the outcomes in these settlements can vary, they often result in a quicker closure to the issue.
Verdicts in Mesothelioma Lawsuits: When a mesothelioma lawsuit reaches court, the outcome can often be unpredictable. Much depends upon the evidence that is provided in each case, but there is an extensive history of large verdicts being awarded to those who have been exposed to asbestos by their employer.