What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer affecting the mesothelial cells in the body which are found around most internal organs. Mesothelioma can be diagnosed in two forms; pleural and peritoneal. Plural mesothelioma starts in the membrane of the lungs, and is the most common type accounting for 90% of mesothelioma cases. Plural Mesothelioma is NOT a lung cancer, even though it is found in the lining of the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma starts in the lining of the abdomen. It is the less common of the two types, and accounts for 10% of mesothelioma cases. The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. It is not instant and takes a number of years for symptoms to develop. There is no cure for mesothelioma as of yet, however treatments are available to manage the condition.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma According to the Cancer Council:
  • shortness of breath – which usually worsens with activity or when lying down
  • chest pain or pain in the shoulder and upper arm
  • loss of appetite, weight loss
  • persistent cough or a change in a person’s usual cough
  • heavy sweating, particularly at night.
Symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma According to the Cancer Council:
  • swollen or painful abdomen
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • fever
  • bowel or urinary problems.

If any of these symptoms are experienced, doctor consultation is necessary. Doctors are able to conduct a number of tests to explore all possible illnesses, and then conclude on one final diagnosis. These tests include; Blood tests, X-Rays, CT Scans, Biopsies, and draining fluid from the pleura.

Blood Tests: Blood tests are excellent for assessing the overall health of a person. Blood tests can identify any abnormal cells and further takes into account the health of your blood cells, kidneys and liver.

X-Rays: X-rays can identify any abnormalities in the lungs including fluid in between the lungs and chest wall, and fluid in the pleura.

CT Scans:  CT Scans provide a 3D image of the body and it’s organs. This is an effective tool for assessing the lymph nodes. It is also effective for monitoring cancers to see if it spreads to other parts of the body.

Biopsies: A biopsy is the best way to diagnose Pleural Mesothelioma. A sample is taken through one of two ways; a key-hole type surgery and a CT guided biopsy. This sample is taken from the abdominal or pleural tissue and examined with a microscope.

Draining Fluid From the Pleura: Draining fluid from the pleura can be done to relieve the patient of some of the symptoms including shortness of breath. A sample of this fluid is taken and sent away for testing.

Treatment

There is no cure for mesothelioma, but there are active treatment methods available to manage the condition upon early diagnosis.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy drugs aim to kill the cancer cells while doing little damage to the healthy cells in the body. Patients suffering Peritoneal Mesothelioma are given the drug directly into their abdomen.

Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy is mostly used to treat pleural mesothelioma. It uses X-Rays to kill and damage the cancer cells in the body. It can also be used as a pain management tool, e.g. handling pain caused by tumours.

Surgery: In some cases, surgical intervention is required to treat pleural mesothelioma.

Extra-pleural Pneumonectomy (PPE): Removes the tumour, the pleura, the effected lung, the diaphragm and a portion of the heart.

Pleurectomy with Pulmonary Decortication (P/D): Removes the pleura and as much of the disease as possible.

Treating Symptoms: In cases where mesothelioma is diagnosed late stage, active treatments are less effective, and therefore the main goal becomes managing the symptoms and keeping the patient comfortable.

Finding a Cure for Mesothelioma

A cure for mesothelioma may still be decades away, but the prognosis of patients has drastically bettered. Patients who are diagnosed early on are now living considerably longer. It is not uncommon to find a 5 or 10 year mesothelioma survivor. Science and modern medicine are always improving and searching for new cures, new medicines, new procedures to help people. There is hope for a cure for mesothelioma in the future.