What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that develops in the mesothelium, a protective membrane that lines three body cavities: the thoracic cavity (pleura), abdominal cavity (peritoneum) and the heart sac (pericardium). Though mesothelioma commonly affects the pleural lining of the lung (pleural mesothelioma), the cancer is not a lung cancer. Mesothelioma develops in the mesothelium, a membrane that lines many body organs and cavities, including the lungs, the abdominal cavity and the heart sac.
What are the different types of mesothelioma?
The four different types of mesothelioma are named for the area of the body they affect. Pleural mesothelioma, the most common type of the cancer, develops in the mesothelial lining of the lungs, known as the pleura. Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs in the peritoneal lining of the abdominal cavity. Pericardial mesothelioma affects the membrane surrounding the heart, known as the pericardium. Testicular mesothelioma develops in the lining around the testicles.
What causes mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring toxic mineral that was commonly used throughout the 20th century because of its natural resistance to heat and fire. The mineral was often used in insulation and asbestos fibres were frequently mixed with cement and woven into fabrics. Asbestos exposure can result in the development of serious illnesses such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.
How does mesothelioma develop?
The cancer develops when asbestos fibres are inhaled or ingested into the body. Once in the body, the fibres can become lodged in organs or cavities, causing inflammation or infection and cellular damage. Over time, cancerous cells begin to divide uncontrollably, causing the membranes in the affected location to thicken. Fluid begins to build up in the spaces between membrane layers and tumours begin to form, causing impaired bodily function.
What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?
Generally a patient will not demonstrate symptoms of mesothelioma until 20 to 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos. Symptoms often resemble other illnesses such as influenza and pneumonia, which can make diagnosis difficult. Patients with pleural mesothelioma may experience persistent raspy cough, difficulty breathing and swallowing, night sweats, fatigue and chest pain. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include diarrhoea or constipation, nausea, fever, swelling or pain in the abdomen and anaemia. Pericardial mesothelioma patients may experience chest pain, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, fever and fatigue. The only known symptom of testicular mesothelioma is the appearance of testicular lumps.
How is mesothelioma diagnosed?
A mesothelioma diagnosis generally begins with a review of a patient’s medical history, followed by a physical examination. Typically, a doctor will then recommend further testing which often begins with an x-ray to pinpoint the exact location of mesothelioma and discover whether or not it has spread to other areas of the body. Additional imaging tests, including a CT scan, PET scan or MRI may also be recommended for a more thorough image of the cancer. A doctor may then request a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure involving the collection of small fluid samples that are analysed by a pathologist for the presence of cancerous cells.
What is the typical prognosis for a patient with mesothelioma?
Many factors influence a mesothelioma patient’s prognosis, or the probable course and outcome of a disease’s influence on the body. Since a mesothelioma diagnosis often occurs once the cancer has progressed to later stages of development, prognosis is typically poor, however, if a patient is diagnosed early or elects to undergo treatment to combat the cancer, their prognosis may improve. Factors that may influence prognosis include: the type of mesothelioma, size of the tumour, location of the tumour, age of the patient and the stage of a patient’s mesothelioma at the time of diagnosis.
Is there a cure for mesothelioma?
While a cure for mesothelioma does not currently exist, extensive studies and clinical trials are conducted by cancer specialists and doctors who work towards discovering a cure every day.
What treatment options are available to mesothelioma patients?
Several treatment options are available for patients with mesothelioma. The most common forms of treatment utilised by patients is chemotherapy and radiation. Chemotherapy uses medication to target and kill cancerous cells. Radiation uses ionising radiation to kill cancer cells and control the growth of new cancerous cells. Patients will typically undergo several different treatment options to combat the cancer.
(NB: SOURCE INFORMATION FREELY AVAILABLE VIA ASBESTOS DISEASES ASSOCIATIONS AND INTERNET)
Mesothelioma, though rare, has had a number of notable patients.
Bernie Banton, (13 October 1946 – 27 November 2007) an Australian Workers’ rights activist, fought a long battle for compensation from James Hardie after he contracted mesothelioma after working for that company. He claimed James Hardie knew of the dangers of asbestos before he began work with the substance making insulation for power stations. Mesothelioma eventually took his life along with his brothers and hundreds of James Hardie workers. James Hardie made an undisclosed settlement with Banton only when his mesothelioma had reached its final stages and he was expected to have no more than 48 hours to live. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd mentioned Banton’s extended struggle in his acceptance speech after winning the 2007 Australian Federal election.
Actor Steve McQueen,was diagnosed with Peritoneal mesothelioma on December 22, 1979. He was not offered surgery or chemotherapy because doctors felt the cancer was too advanced. He subsequently sought alternative treatments at clinics in Mexico and died of a heart attack on November 7, 1980, in Juarez, Mexico following cancer surgery. He may have been exposed to asbestos while serving with the U.S. Marines as a young adult – asbestos was then commonly used to insulate ships’ piping – or from its use as an insulating material in automobile racing suits (McQueen was an avid racing driver and fan).
Rock and roll musician and songwriter Warren Zevon after a long period of untreated illness and pain, was diagnosed with inoperable mesothelioma in the fall of 2002. Refusing treatments that he believed might incapacitate him, Zevon focused his energies on recording his final album The Wind, including the song “Keep Me in Your Heart,” which speaks of his failing breath. Zevon died at his home in Los Angeles, California, on September 7, 2003.
Notable people who have lived for some time with mesothelioma
Although life expectancy with this disease is typically limited, there are notable survivors. In July 1982, Stephen Jay Gould was diagnosed with Peritoneal mesothelioma. After his diagnosis, Gould wrote “The Median Isn’t the Message” for Discover magazine, in which he argued that statistics such as median survival are just useful abstractions, not destiny. Gould lived for another 20 years, eventually succumbing to metastatic adenocarcinoma of the lung, not mesothelioma.
Author Paul Kraus was diagnosed with Peritoneal mesothelioma in July 1997. He was given a prognosis of less than a year to live and used a variety of complementary modalities. He continued to outlive his prognosis and wrote a book about his experience “Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers: A Patient’s Guide” in which he presented his philosophy about healing and the decision making that led him to use Integrative medicine.