Although the rate of mesothelioma diagnoses in the United States peaked in the 1990s, approximately 3,000 new cases are still diagnosed each year. And while mesothelioma is still relatively rare when compared to other kinds of cancer, it’s important to be able to identify all the causes and risk factors, so you can determine whether you may benefit from a lung cancer screening. 

What Is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive and rare form of cancer found in the lining surrounding the lungs, stomach and heart, caused by ingesting asbestos fibers. On average, the life expectancy of someone diagnosed with mesothelioma is one year. However, effective treatments and therapies can sometimes improve prognoses, if the cancer is caught early. 

Types of Mesothelioma

By far the most common type of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma is cancer that develops within the protective lining of the lungs, also known as the pleura.

Often misdiagnosed as a less life-threatening abdominal condition, peritoneal mesothelioma is cancer that develops in the abdomen, also known as the peritoneum.

An extremely rare form of cancer, pericardial mesothelioma develops in the membrane that lines the heart, also known as the pericardium. 

What Causes Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma almost always occurs in people exposed to asbestos in the workplace. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, often used in building materials including insulation, ceiling tiles, shingles and flooring. Sometimes during mining or construction, asbestos breaks apart, creating a cloud of particles. When you breathe in asbestos fibers, they can become trapped in your lungs. If these fibers damage cells in your body, it can lead to mesothelioma. It’s important to note that less than 5 percent of people who are exposed to asbestos will develop mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Risk Factors

Several factors that may increase your risk of contracting mesothelioma include:

  • Personal history of asbestos exposure
  • Living with someone who works with or near asbestos
  • A family history of mesothelioma
  • Radiation therapy to the chest

If you’ve been exposed to asbestos or have any of these symptoms, see your Mercy doctor right away.

How to Prevent Mesothelioma

You should always wear protective gear and follow safety precautions when working with asbestos. It can take decades for mesothelioma to develop after asbestos exposure. Most people don’t discover they have mesothelioma until it’s already at an advanced stage, making a cure highly unlikely. But if you catch it early, you may benefit from treatment. If you or a loved one have or thinks they have been exposed to asbestos, please see your Mercy doctor immediately. 

Mesothelioma Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include: 

  • Persistent, painful coughing
  • Coughing up bloody fluid
  • Difficulty breathing, including shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Chest pain, especially under the rib cage
  • Lumps that form under the skin on your chest
  • Unexplained weight loss

Diagnosing & Staging Mesothelioma 

Mercy’s cancer specialists offer the latest tools for diagnosing and staging mesothelioma. A mesothelioma diagnosis may involve several tests including diagnostic imaging, blood tests and a biopsy.

Biopsies are the only way to determine whether you have developed mesothelioma. Depending on what area of your body is affected, your Mercy doctor will either take your biopsy by inserting a needle through your skin or by collecting a sample of tissue during surgery.

Once your mesothelioma is confirmed, additional imaging tests such as CT, MRI or PET scans may be recommended to determine the extent of cancer.

Your Mercy doctor will use the results of your diagnosis to assign your diagnosis to a stage. This will help determine which treatment(s) fits your needs, as well as which treatment(s) will provide the best outcome for you. Pleural mesothelioma grows and spreads with four distinct stages. Formal stages aren't available for other types of mesothelioma right now.

 

Pleural Mesothelioma Stage I

 

If a patient has been diagnosed with stage I mesothelioma, cancer will be localized to one area of the body. Patients diagnosed with stage I generally have the most treatment options available to them and have the highest life expectancy rates.

 

Pleural Mesothelioma Stage II

 

If a patient has been diagnosed with stage II mesothelioma, there will be indicators that cancer has metastasized (or spread) to lymph nodes nearby. A handful of effective treatment options are still available to most patients at this stage.

 

Pleural Mesothelioma Stage III

 

If a patient has been diagnosed with stage III mesothelioma, it means cancer has metastasized to the lymph nodes and other nearby organs. With a stage III diagnosis, treatment options for patients become much more limited.

 

Pleural Mesothelioma Stage IV

 

If a patient has been diagnosed with stage IV mesothelioma, cancer has now spread completely to the other side of the body. Surgery is not an option with a stage IV diagnosis, but patients can potentially improve their quality of life with potent palliative treatments.

Mesothelioma Treatment Options

At Mercy, we don’t just care for you, we care about you. We understand that for many people with mesothelioma, treatment options are limited. Even though we can’t always offer a cure, our team of cancer specialists can provide care and support to ease your symptoms. We’ll help you understand your condition and your options for battling it.

There are several common types of lung cancer surgeries performed on patients which include wedge resection, sleeve resection, lobectomy and pneumonectomy. Minimally invasive robotic surgery may be used to assist your Mercy surgeon during your selected procedure. Unlike a human hand, the robotic “wrists” of the device allow them to maintain greater surgical precision, increased range of motion and other benefits.

Radiation therapy form of treatment places radioactive material inside your body within or beside your tumor. Advantages of radiotherapy include fewer treatment sessions and higher dosages of radiation.

Chemotherapy is used to treat mesothelioma by controlling tumor growth and reducing symptoms. Chemo uses a range of different drugs, usually delivered through the vein, to kill mesothelioma cancer cells, as well as to stop them from growing and dividing. 

Cancer cells grow and develop within your immune system largely due to their ability to evade the immune system altogether. This new type of drug treatment uses special medications to recruit your immune system to attack mesothelioma once it recognizes its presence within your body.

Most drugs used during chemotherapy can’t tell the difference between cancer cells and healthy cells which can lead to unwelcome side effects such as nausea, hair loss and memory problems. Targeted therapy uses drugs that aim for specific areas inside cancer cells, leaving your healthy cells alone.

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