A mesothelioma diagnosis is a life-changing event that has a profound effect on both the victim and his or her family. Someone who has just received such news is likely to have many questions and concerns about the future.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the protective lining around many of the body’s internal organs. There are two types of mesothelioma: pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma. Both types are rare but very serious, and both require immediate medical treatment.
Mesothelioma of the pleura – or lining of the lungs and chest wall – is the most common form of the disease. It generally occurs after inhaling tiny fragments of asbestos, which become airborne after an asbestos-containing material is broken up and disseminated into the environment. These airborne particles can become caught in the lungs, where they remain throughout the lifetime of the victim. If enough damage is caused by inflammation and scarring, then disease is the result.
The second type of mesothelioma diagnosis is of the peritoneum, which surrounds the abdominal cavity. Ingestion of asbestos particles is the primary cause of this particular cancer, and it occurs once asbestos fibers have become airborne and then make their way into the nose or mouth.
Through the 1980s, exposure to asbestos was a common occupational hazard for people working in construction and automotive repair, among other industries. Asbestos was frequently used in building materials as well as vehicle parts, before being banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1989.
Most people who were routinely exposed to asbestos do not receive a mesothelioma diagnosis for many years after exposure. In fact, it generally takes 20 to 50 years or more for the disease to develop.
Mesothelioma is notoriously difficult to diagnose, a fact attributed to the commonality of its primary symptoms. Many of the early signs of both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma are also characteristic of far less serious conditions like the common cold and seasonal allergies. These symptoms may include wheezing and coughing, fatigue or abdominal pain.
The poor prognosis of many mesothelioma patients is largely connected to the length of time between the onset of the disease and its detection. Early diagnosis is key for favorable response to treatment in both the pleural and peritoneal varieties.
Traditional treatment methods following a mesothelioma diagnosis include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation and surgery. As with most other cancers, chemo is generally considered to be the most promising option available.
More than 10,000 people are diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases each year. In addition to mesothelioma, those may include asbestosis and lung cancer, as well as cancer of other parts of the body. Experts expect that new cases of asbestos-linked illness will continue to be diagnosed over the next several years, as more and more workers enter the final incubation period of these diseases.