Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that attacks the mesothelium, which is the inner lining that surrounds the organs. The only known cause of this disease is asbestos exposure.
The most common types of mesothelioma include pleural and peritoneal cancer. Pleural Mesothelioma attacks the pleura or the thin lining that surrounds the lungs and accounts for about 75 percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses. Peritoneal Mesothelioma targets the lining that surrounds the abdominal area and accounts for 10 to 20 percent of all diagnoses.
Mesothelioma develops when unsuspecting workers breathe in asbestos fibers. These fibers get lodged in the lungs and remain there undetected for decades. The disease is often not diagnosed until it is in the late state, limiting life-saving treatment options. Up to 30 percent of all mesothelioma victims have served in the military. Railroad workers, ship and boat laborers, and steel mill workers are also at a high risk for developing mesothelioma.
In most cases, asbestos cancer takes 20 to 50 years to develop. There are four stages of the disease that indicate how far the cancer has progressed. For many patients, most symptoms are not noticeable until stages III and IV, which are considered the later stages.
- Dry or raspy cough
- Lumps under the skin
- Pain while breathing
- Buildup of fluid in chest
- Pain while breathing
- Abdominal swelling
- Fluid in abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Night sweats or fever
Patients who get an early and accurate diagnosis have greater treatment options, a better long-term prognosis and better access to funds to pay for treatment. An early diagnosis allows doctors to determine the best treatment plan based on the type and location of the cancer. If you are diagnosed through your local oncologist, you are encouraged to seek a second opinion through an asbestos cancer treatment specialist.
A confirmed diagnosis is vital to getting access to several types of financial assistance for treatment, living expenses and other medical expenses. Mesothelioma trust funds, legal settlements and VA compensation, in some cases, are among the several types of financial assistance available. It is important to note a statute of limitations to file a claim typically expires one to two years after the date of diagnosis.
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Lung Cancer vs. Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is frequently misdiagnosed as lung cancer because both diseases have similar symptoms, including shortness of breath, chest pains and coughing. Many mesothelioma cases are misdiagnosed each year leaving patients and families with the burden of covering the costs of medical care and other expenses.
Mesothelioma is so rare, general or local oncologists do not have the experience to diagnose and treat the disease effectively. Our patient advocates can help you connect with a specialist that can provide help you determine the treatment plan that is right for you.
How to Pay for Treatment
Mesothelioma bankruptcy trust funds, settlements, workers’ compensation and VA claims are just a few ways patients pay for treatments. The goal is to ensure patients and their families can live comfortably and financially secure while undergoing treatment. Financial assistance can cover the following expenses and more:
- Diagnostic Testing – Imaging, Biopsies, and Blood Tests
- Travel Expenses – Angel Flights
- Lodging Costs – Housing During Treatment
What is Mesothelioma? Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive disease that is known to develop over a period of 20 to 40 years. In many cases, the disease is not diagnosed until the end stage, when it is more difficult to treat. There is no cure for mesothelioma, but advanced medical treatments have allowed patients to live longer with the disease. Up to 3,000 people a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma.
What is Malignant Mesothelioma? Malignant mesothelioma is cancer that forms in the mesothelium, or the thin layer of cells that surround major organs. Mesothelioma is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. There are three common locations for mesothelioma to form:
- Pleura – the chest and lung area
- Peritoneum – the abdomen area
- Pericardium – near the heart
What is the life expectancy of a mesothelioma patient? In general, the average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is between 12 to 21 months. Some 40 percent of patients survive about a year after a diagnosis and about 20 percent live more than two years following a diagnosis. While rare, there are some patients who live longer than five years with the disease.
The patient’s age at diagnosis, general health and access to treatment specialists are among the many factors that go into determining a mesothelioma patient’s life expectancy. Other factors that play a key role are the location of the disease (pleural mesothelioma patients have better survival rates than other disease locations), cell types involved (epithelial cells respond better to treatment than other types) and stage (earlier stage disease is more responsive to treatment). Experts warn that life expectation estimations vary greatly by patient and individual circumstances.
What are the causes of mesothelioma? The primary cause of any form of mesothelioma is exposure to the thin, fibrous mineral called asbestos. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they travel through the lungs to reach the pleura, where they cause inflammation and scarring to form pleural mesothelioma. In cases of peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma, researchers suspect asbestos fibers are ingested, travel through the lymph system or are absorbed through the skin to irritate surrounding cells. In all cases, the irritations damage cell DNA, causing cells to grow rapidly and abnormally and forming tumors.
Small studies have indicated some people are genetically predisposed to developing mesothelioma because they are more susceptible to the dangers of asbestos. Researchers are also reviewing a link between mesothelioma and Simian virus 40 (SV40), a DNA virus that contaminated early polio vaccines. There has been no definitive link between the virus and mesothelioma.
How are the stages of mesothelioma determined?
Physicians determine the stage of disease by performing numerous tests including X-rays, CT (CAT) scans, MRIs, PET scans and biopsies. It is important to determine where the cancer started and if it has spread from the point of origin for a correct disease staging. An accurate assessment of disease stage is crucial to successful treatment options.
Most physicians use a universally accepted tumor grading system to stage the disease. This allows physicians to communicate about a single patient to devise the best treatment plan. The TNM system looks at the size and growth of tumors (T), the involvement of lymph nodes (N) and the metastasis, or spread, of the disease (M). From there, the cancer is staged, with stages I and II as the early disease process and stages III and IV as the more advanced disease. Most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the later stages, making treatment difficult.
What is the survival rate for mesothelioma?
About 55 percent of mid- to late-stage mesothelioma patients live six months after a diagnosis, some 40 percent survive the first year after a diagnosis and about 9 percent survive five years or longer. An overall survival rate is dependent on a number of factors including state and location of the disease, the patient’s age and general health and the access to treatment specialists. Long-term survivors credit lifestyle changes, alternative medicine and treatment from mesothelioma specialists as contributing factors to their success.
A recent study that looked at 20 years of survivor information, from 1992 to 2012, found pleural and peritoneal survivorship was on the rise. The study found recent advances in treatment, including hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) and cytoreductive surgery, appear to have increased survival rates in peritoneal mesothelioma patients. The study’s author suggested genetics, various treatment modalities and gene environment interactions might also play a part in patient longevity.
What are the treatment options for a mesothelioma patient?
The optimal treatment approach for most mesothelioma patients is multimodal therapy which is surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. This approach, if successful, eliminates diseased tissue and allows for palliative care. Your treatment plan will depend on your diagnosis, disease stage and overall health.
- The most aggressive surgery calls for stripping away the diseased mesothelium, the thin layer of cells surrounding major organs, or removing a diseased lung entirely. This potentially curative surgery is most suited to patients who are in the early stages of mesothelioma.
- Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), or heated chemotherapy, has been found to be effective against mesothelioma tumors. Used before and after surgery, radiation shrinks tumors and kills cancer cells.
- Another widely used option, especially for those looking for treatments in advanced stages, are clinical trials. These allow patients to pursue treatments that are proven beneficial but are not yet approved by the FDA.
Why do veterans make up such a large amount of mesothelioma patients?
For decades, all branches of the military required asbestos be used to protect service members from heat, fire and chemical threats. It was widely used in barracks, offices, vehicles and vessels. Over a period of 50 years, some 5 million veterans were exposed to asbestos in shipbuilding operations alone. About 30 percent of mesothelioma patients are U.S. military veterans. Occupations that include carpentry, construction, roofing, auto mechanics and milling are at risk for exposure to dangerous levels of asbestos.
It is estimated that more than 300 asbestos products were used on military installations and in military applications between the early 1930s and the late 1970s. More recently, soldiers serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East may be been exposed from airborne asbestos. Companies that produced these products concealed the dangers of mesothelioma to put profits ahead of the safety and well being of our troops.
What factors affect a prognosis? Gender, age, severity of symptoms, level of asbestos exposure, stage of disease and disease cell type play a significant role in the overall prognosis for mesothelioma patients. In addition, external factors including diet, age, stress level and general health play a role. The average pleural mesothelioma patient with late-stage disease survives about 12 months after a diagnosis, but those treated with surgery and radiation may extend their prognoses by some 28 months. Peritoneal mesothelioma patients who are treated with heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) outlive their prognoses by 24 months to 7 years.
Many patients are able to improve their prognosis by seeking treatment options from a qualified mesothelioma specialist. Doctors who are practiced and trained in mesothelioma disease treatment approaches have specialized skills, education and access to crucial information that can make positive changes on long-term health.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asbestos. Retrieved From http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/asbestos/ – Accessed June 12, 2013
- National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk. Retrieved From http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/asbestos Accessed June 12, 2013
- Radiopaedia.org. Mesothelioma. Retrieved from http://radiopaedia.org/articles/mesothelioma
- RRoswell Park Cancer Institute. Mesothelioma Treatments. Retrieved from https://www.roswellpark.org/cancer/mesothelioma/treatment
- Bridda, A, et al. Peritoneal Mesothelioma: A Review. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/555473_4
- Cancer.org. Surgery for malignant mesothelioma. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignantmesothelioma/detailedguide/malignant-mesothelioma-treating-surgery