Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma: An Overview

Malignant pleural mesothelioma is rare but terminal form of cancer that affects the mesothelium—a thin protective sheath covering the lungs and chest wall. It is the most common form of mesothelioma cancer, accounting for close to 90 percent of all cases, and is caused almost exclusively by repeated and prolonged exposure to asbestos.

Symptoms of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma symptoms experienced during the early stages of the disease are often considered to have diagnostic ambiguity. In other words, people often contribute early warning signs to the virtually identical effects of common and mostly non-serious conditions like head colds or seasonal allergies. This is further complicated by the fact that, because of the disease’s unusually long development period, many people who are at risk do not know it and therefore fail to be on the lookout for telltale signs.

Early symptoms may include:

-Persistent coughing
-Persistent wheezing
-Shortness of breath or breathlessness
-Mild to moderate chest pain
-Continual hoarseness of the voice

Staging of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma

The American Joint Committee on Cancer has a three-step staging system to evaluate the advancement of pleural mesothelioma, called the TNM System. The acronym breaks down as follows:
-T: Tumor (describes the degree of the tumor to what extent it has spread)
-N: Nodes (describes whether or not the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, an important step in advancement of the disease)
-M: Metastasized (describes whether or not the cancer has spread to other organs inside the body)

Diagnosis of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma

Initial screening methods often used when mesothelioma is suspected include a chest x-ray and lung function test. If further evaluation is needed, a doctor may order one or more advanced imaging techniques, such as an MRI, PET or CAT scan. If none of these screening methods is able to eliminate suspected mesothelioma, a biopsy will be performed. Only by biopsying—removing and analyzing microscopically—affected tissue or fluid, can a conclusive mesothelioma diagnosis be made.

Treatment of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma

Cancer treatments, including those routinely used for mesothelioma, are undergoing constant research and evaluation. Advancements are very much hoped for in the near future. However, as of this time, there is no “cure” for many types of cancer—mesothelioma being one of them. Most treatment methods are intended primarily for palliative care usage, meaning for the purpose of improving pain and other symptoms related to the illness. Remission from this particular type of cancer, however, is rare.

Common traditional forms of treatment include surgery to remove the tumor and often at least part of the tissue surrounding it, as well as radiation and chemotherapy. Often, these three most popular modalities are used in some combination. One promising alternative form of treatment that is currently in clinical trials is immunology, a type of treatment that utilizes a patient’s immune system to fight the cancer rather than focusing in on the tumor itself.