Mesothelioma is a rare yet deadly form of cancer that is caused by exposure to the mineral asbestos. Not every person exposed to asbestos gets mesothelioma: most of us are exposed to this mineral regularly and mesothelioma is a very rare disease, affecting fewer than 2,000 Americans each year. Still, if you live or work near asbestos, it’s a good idea to be aware of mesothelioma risk factors and warning signs. If you have questions about mesothelioma or asbestos that are not answered by this post, contact your doctor or a local asbestos remediation specialist.
What is Mesothelioma?
The mesothelium is a thin protective layer that covers a number of organs, including the lungs, heart, and abdominal organs. When cancer forms in this layer, it is known as mesothelioma. The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, which is commonly found in automobile brakes, building materials, insulation, cement, and textiles. Mesothelioma strikes more men than women, and the average case of mesothelioma is not diagnosed until the patient is more than 60 years old.
In most cases, exposure to asbestos happens decades before a person is diagnosed with mesothelioma. The disease is often difficult to diagnose because many of the symptoms mimic symptoms of much more common illnesses, such as the common cold or minor stomach disturbances.
Specific mesothelioma symptoms are particular to the area of the body that is affected by the disease. Here is a brief run-down of typical mesothelioma symptoms associated with each form of the disease.
Pleural (Lung) Mesothelioma Symptoms
Pleural mesothelioma is often confused with a cold, flu, or bronchitis. Symptoms may include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Weight loss
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Fatigue or weakness
- Back or chest pain
- Swelling of arms and face
Peritoneal (Abdominal) Mesothelioma Symptoms
Often confused with digestive or stomach illnesses, symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
Pericardial (Heart) Mesothelioma Symptoms
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Heart palpitations
- Night sweats
There are a number of tests that may be used to reach a mesothelioma diagnosis, including X-rays, CT scans, MRI, and PET scans. Tissue samples and biopsies are later used to confirm diagnosis. Mesothelioma is not an easy disease to treat, and the disease is often diagnosed at later stages, which makes treatment even more difficult. The average mesothelioma patient lives one to two years after diagnosis.
If you live or work around asbestos, it’s important for you to be aware of mesothelioma signs and symptoms. If you have been exposed to asbestos and exhibit any of the above symptoms, you should discuss your exposure and symptoms with your doctor.