A diagnosis of any kind of cancer is devastating news, but a diagnosis of mesothelioma – asbestos-caused cancer – can be especially frightening. Anyone who worked with asbestos for a prolonged amount of time probably knows a former co-worker who is dealing with mesothelioma disease and knows just how tough a cancer it is to fight. Arming oneself with as much information as possible, however, is helpful in waging the battle against this rare disease.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is caused when inhaled asbestos fibers become lodged in the body, usually in the chest area. Asbestos material was used abundantly for much of the 20th century in a variety of industries, so those who worked with it on a regular basis are the individuals most likely to have inhaled asbestos fibers.
When the fibers remain in the chest area, they can cause severe inflammation and irritation. In some cases, the inflammation simply causes breathing problems but, in other instances, victims of asbestos exposure develop cancerous tumors.
Mesothelioma cancer is hard to diagnose because it usually remains latent in the human body for several decades. When it finally surfaces, it has generally reached an advanced stage. At that point, the cancer has often spread to other organs and to the lymph nodes, making it difficult to treat successfully. Furthermore, the symptoms of the disease – chest pain, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, coughing, fatigue, loss of appetite – can be very debilitating and seriously impact the victim’s quality of life.
How is Mesothelioma Treated?
If mesothelioma is caught in Stage 1 or 2, surgery to remove the tumor is possible. However, because of the previously-mentioned long latency period, this is rarely the case. Instead, most patients are candidates for treatments that are not considered curative, including chemotherapy and radiation and perhaps clinical trials that test new drugs and more cutting-edge treatments like immunotherapy.
In some instances, patients are merely provided with palliative treatments that make them more comfortable but do not offer any hope for cure. These generally include therapies like radiation to shrink tumors and relieve discomfort, or simple surgical procedures like thoracentesis, which reduces fluid in the lungs and eases breathing.
Prognosis for Mesothelioma Patients
Unfortunately, mesothelioma disease is quite aggressive and the one-year survival rate for those with this cancer is about 40 percent. The five-year survival rate is only about 10 percent. Scientists continue to research and discover new drugs for the disease and seek to find better ways to diagnose it during an earlier stage, hoping to prolong the life expectancy of meso victims.
- American Cancer Society: "How is Malignant Mesothelioma Diagnosed". http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_3X_How_is_malignant_mesothelioma_diagnosed_29.asp?rnav=cri
Last modified: April 13, 2010.