Mesothelioma is a very rare yet deadly type of cancer caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma is cancer that forms in the protective membrane that covers organs throughout the body, known as the mesothelium. The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma (of the lung), followed by peritoneal (abdominal) and pericardial (heart) mesothelioma. While anyone who has been exposed to asbestos is at risk for developing this disease, mesothelioma is extremely rare. If you have been exposed to asbestos, it’s a good idea for you to familiarize yourself with the warning signs of mesothelioma.
Who Gets Mesothelioma?
Each year, only about 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed. Up to 80 percent of mesothelioma patients can trace their disease to asbestos exposure, while others may have a hard time pinpointing when and where they were exposed to asbestos. Asbestos can be found in hundreds of products, including but not limited to:
- Automobile brakes
- Roofing materials
- Flooring materials
Mesothelioma has a long latency period: a person can be diagnosed with mesothelioma up to 50 years after he or she is exposed to asbestos. Mesothelioma is more common amongst men than women.
Where is Mesothelioma Found?
In most cases, mesothelioma symptoms don’t present until decades after the person is exposed to asbestos. Early symptoms of mesothelioma, such as a cough or stomach pain, can easily be mistaken for more common illnesses such as the flu or bronchitis, so a mesothelioma misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis is not uncommon.
The specific symptoms of mesothelioma differ according to the part of the body that is affected by the disease. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the disease, with up to 80 percent of mesothelioma patients suffering from mesothelioma of the lungs. Only about 20 percent of mesothelioma cases develop in the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma), and less than ten percent of mesothelioma cases develop in the lining around the heart (pericardial mesothelioma). Mesothelioma can also strike the reproductive organs, but this is extremely rare.
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
- Abdominal discomfort
- Back pain
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hoarse voice
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of the face and arms
- Unexpected weight loss
- Weakness and fatigue
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal bloating
- Weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
There are a number of diagnostic tools that can contribute to a mesothelioma diagnosis, including X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Tissue samples taken from affected areas are also examined in a laboratory to reach and confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Mesothelioma is not easy to treat. By the time a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma, the disease is usually at an advanced stage. Sadly, the average survival rate for mesothelioma patients is just two years after diagnosis.
If you have worked around asbestos, it’s a good idea to make yourself aware of common symptoms of mesothelioma. Also be sure to alert your doctor to your exposure so that he or she can monitor your health for signs of mesothelioma.