Part III of Exploring Mesothelioma: Prognosis and Physical Effects

‘Exploring Mesothelioma: Prognosis and Physical Effects’ is part three of a four-part series, which looks at a rare and deadly form of cancer that primarily attacks victims who were exposed to asbestos—a toxic substance abundantly used to manufacture common household products through the later part of the 20th century.

“You have cancer.”

These are words that no one ever wants to hear. The very utterance of the word ‘cancer’ elicits powerful emotions in most people, namely fear and despair, and for good reason: it is one contemporary crisis of human health that medical science has yet to conclusively overcome.

For victims of mesothelioma, the prognosis is particularly grave. A typical post-diagnosis lifespan is less than two years and often no more than a few months. Much of the disease’s lethal nature can be traced to the abnormally long time that it takes to develop, as well as the difficulty in medically evaluating its primary symptoms.

The sad fact is that most victims do not receive a mesothelioma diagnosis until it is too late for treatment to be very effective. This is partially attributable to the ambiguous nature of most of its symptoms and partially linked to the fact that most people at risk for mesothelioma do not identify themselves as so. Because the gap between its primary cause—exposure to asbestos—and the formation of the cancer itself is so large, mesothelioma has often been called a “silent killer.” It tends to sneak up on its victims, with little to no warning, many years after the exposure that created it.

How quickly it is caught so that treatment may be started is the primary determining factor in an individual mesothelioma prognosis—the sooner that treatment commences, the better the chances of possible remission.

Other factors that play a role include the age of the patient, the type of treatment(s) and the length and intensity of the patient’s past exposure to asbestos. Whether or not the individual is a smoker also influences the prognosis of pleural mesothelioma, as cigarette smoking is believed to augment the damage done by asbestos abrasions in the lining of the lungs, where it forms.

The physical effects of mesothelioma are great—weight loss, muscle weakness, extreme fatigue, difficulty breathing and pain in the chest, abdomen or back are all common manifestations. Discomforts associated with advanced-stage mesothelioma can be severe enough to warrant the use of prescription painkillers and challenge the patient’s breathing.

In addition, the side effects of common mesothelioma treatments serve to exacerbate the physical consequences of the cancer. Common therapy methods, including chemo and radiation, wreak havoc on the healthy cells of the body as they kill those for which they are intended. The resulting effects can include everything from nausea and vomiting, all the way to the formation of additional, different forms of cancer and permanent damage to other major organs.

Fortunately the advent of newer, less destructive treatments are bringing hope for both a lessening of the physical effects accountable to mesothelioma and the prognosis of its future.