‘Compare and Contrast: Pleural Mesothelioma’ is the first article in a two-part series that explores the two most common types of mesothelioma cancer – including the symptoms, causes, treatment options and general prognosis.
Mesothelioma is a rare and terminal form of cancer that is most often caused by exposure to asbestos—a well-known carcinogen that can be found in many consumer products, mostly manufactured before the 1980s, when asbestos use became severely restricted. Asbestos was a particularly prevalent hazard within the construction industry, which heavily utilized building materials made from asbestos due to their exceptional strength and fire-resistance. Other common products that often contained asbestos, however, ranged widely—from make-up and hair dryers to toys and electric blankets.
There are four established types of mesothelioma but two of those types make up the vast majority of overall diagnoses. Those are: peritoneal and pleural mesothelioma. In addition to both being closely linked to asbestos, the two main types of mesothelioma share the same tragic prognosis. They are known to be fatal in virtually every documented case of the disease, and for the most part, have a life expectancy that rarely exceeds two years post-diagnosis.
There is good news, however, in that several factors can have a major impact on the exact outcome of the disease. None of these is more important than the date of detection, which can create all the difference in the world for treatment efficacy. Much of the cause for mesothelioma’s generally poor patient prognosis lies with the length of time that usually lapses between the development of the illness and the time it is caught by a doctor, thus allowing treatment to begin. Diagnosis is key and—as in most all incidences of cancer—the earlier, the better.
Some of the options for treating mesothelioma include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. The latter is one of the newest and most promising methods available. Though it is still being studied and developed, immunotherapy appears to offer much hope for the future. Surgery is another common treatment option and involves the removal of the cancerous tumor, as well as sometimes the affected tissue around it.
Pleural mesothelioma is caused by long-term damage to the pleura, which lines cavity containing the lungs and the chest wall. It most often results from the inhalation of asbestos fibers that are then embedded in that protective lining, causing irritation, scarring and eventually the formation of tumors.
Even in more advanced stages, mesothelioma may not have symptoms that immediately cause the victim to be particularly alarmed. In the pleural variety, those symptoms are likely to include coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain. As the cancer worsens, that pain can become quite severe—sometimes even requiring the use of prescription pain medications. But early on, symptoms associated with the disease may not be concerning enough to warrant a trip to the doctor, thus reduces the likelihood of a diagnosis.
In the case of pleural mesothelioma, procrastinating can have a very high cost. Anyone who has experienced asbestos exposure should be on alert for the aforementioned symptoms and waste no time seeking medical attention once they are present.