Caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma is a type of cancer that breeds tumors in the linings of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. Due to its inexpensive, versatile and flame retardant nature, asbestos was routinely incorporated in ship assembly, vehicle parts and construction materials until the early 1980′s. Those at greatest risk for developing this cancer are Navy veterans, shipyard workers, asbestos miners and manufacturers, construction crews and mechanics.
All forms of mesothelioma have been found to cause unexplained loss of appetite and weight, as well as sub dermal masses of tissue near the affected area. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, or tumors within the lining of the lungs, include shortness of breath, coughing and chest pain. Peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the abdomen, may lead to abdominal discomfort and swelling. Pericardial mesothelioma, affecting the outer lining of the heart, may be indicated by chest pain and labored breathing.
Since these symptoms appear with a number of other diseases and illnesses, it is vital to inform the physician if these warning signs appear after having previously been exposed to asbestos. The health care industry has made great strides in the treatment of mesothelioma, increasing the chances of survival following diagnosis.
Currently mesothelioma treatments include surgery, medication, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and combination regimens. The two most common surgical treatments for mesothelioma are pleurectomy decortication and extrapleural pneumonectomy. In pleurectomy decortication, either a portion or the entire affected lining of the lungs is removed, depending on how far the tumors have spread.
During extrapleural pneumonectomy, the cancerous lung and portions of the diaphragm, outer heart lining and the lining of the chest cavity are removed. Both surgeries are considered potentially curative and may increase the chances of surviving mesothelioma. In order to be eligible for either of these surgeries, the patient must be otherwise healthy and the cancer must be within its earliest stages.
With chemotherapy, an intravenous combination of the medications cisplatin or carboplatin and pemetrexed is most often utilized. Though this treatment boasts a high success rate, many patients choose not to undergo chemotherapy due to the associated negative side effects.
Most often used when mesothelioma has surpassed the stages at which surgery would be effective, radiation is used to diminish tumors. This treatment lacks the harsh side effects of chemotherapy but can damage otherwise healthy tissue. Physicians will generally suggest a combination of the aforementioned methods as the most effective treatment.
Research is leading to a number of new and innovative treatments for mesothelioma, such as gene therapy, immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy. Gene therapy employs a modified virus to repair mutated cells. Immunotherapy utilizes the body’s own immune cells to safely destroy cancer cells. With photodynamic therapy, the patient is given a specific medication that causes cancer cells to be susceptible to a specific type of light. Once the medication takes effect, the cancerous cells are exposed to this light via laser, thereby being eradicated.
Due to advances in the treatment of this cancer, for patients mesothelioma life expectancy has increased from less than one year to in excess of ten years. Treatment options and prognoses will vary, depending on the type of mesothelioma the patient has developed, the stage at which it is detected and prior health of the patient, as well as a number of other factors.