Pleural mesothelioma is a lethal type of cancer that strikes the pleura in the thoracic region of the body. The pleurae act as a protective lining for the lungs, diaphragm, heart and chest cavity. This cancer can be divided into three subgroups which include the most common: epithelial, sarcomatoid and biphasic which is a combination of the two. The disease arises when pleura cells become malignant and invade vital tissue or organs.
Pleural mesothelioma is predominately caused by exposure to asbestos. The vast majority of those diagnosed with this disease are older men who were exposed to asbestos on their jobs or through the military, in particular the Navy. Some jobs where workers are exposed to asbestos include, but are not limited to construction, electrical, plumbing, automotive and shipbuilding. Less frequent but other causes are high exposure to radiation, hereditary influences and the virus called simian virus 40.
The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma are generally coughing, shortness of breath, weight loss and chest pain. Because these symptoms mimic many other illnesses, this cancer is usually misdiagnosed initially in the patient. A firm diagnosis is usually made when a patient undergoes an x-ray, CT scan or biopsy. These tests can confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma in the patient and also determine what stage the disease is in. As with most malignancies, mesothelioma cancer is divided into four stages. Stage I denotes a tumor of small size with minimal early disease, Stage II shows a tumor of larger size with advancing disease, Stage III is denoted by a tumor that has metastasized to surrounding lymph nodes, while Stage IV represents a tumor that is inoperable and has invaded vital organs.
Treatment for this disease depends of a number of factors including the location of the tumor, size, cell type and the patient’s overall health. Most physicians employ a three-pronged approach to fighting the disease with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation being the most viable options. The main goal of surgery is to remove all visible portions of the tumor, while chemotherapy and radiation seek to kill any microscopic traces of malignant cells. Since each patient’s case is unique, the doctor will formulate a treatment plan that best meets the needs of that particular individual.
The prognosis for patients with mesothelioma cancer remains dismal with only 40% surviving after one year of their diagnosis. This is directly due to the nature of the disease being aggressive and having a long latency period. The latency period for mesothelioma can be up to 40 years in some patients. With a long latency period like this, mesothelioma is usually discovered when it is in the advanced stages. There are however some advancements that have been made in the treatment for pleural mesothelioma; these involve gene therapy and immunotherapy. With a bit of luck, the future for patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma will be brighter.