Understanding Mesothelioma: Symptoms, Types and Survival Rate
Malignant mesothelioma is an asbestos-related cancer that occurs in patients who have had exposure to asbestos. Whether this be through a high-risk blue collared job like industrial work, construction, or shipbuilding. Or even someone who lives in a high-risk environmental region like near asbestos mines.
It is important to note that secondhand exposure is possible when asbestos comes into contact with clothing or skin. For individuals who find themselves with asbestos-related cancer due to their workplace environment, there are law firms that specialize in asbestos related lawsuits.
Early Symptoms Mesothelioma
Fortunately, with increased awareness, thoracic surgeons and oncologists are being able to identify mesothelioma sooner. Resulting in higher survival rates when found during the first two stages. Unfortunately, because mesothelioma has no symptoms during the early stages, it can be hard to diagnose.
Types of Mesothelioma Cancer
1. Pleural Mesothelioma: this type develops in the outer lining of the lungs and in the inner lining of the chest cavity. This occurs when needle-like fibers of asbestos are breathed into the lungs through the asbestos dust. These trapped fibers cause pleural mesothelioma as genetic changes to the cells occur due to irritation and chronic inflammation. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, raspy cough, coughing up blood, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss. Also night sweats, difficulty swallowing and pain in the lower back or rib area. This is the most common type of mesothelioma.
2. Peritoneal Mesothelioma: this type develops in the protective membrane of the abdomen, the peritoneum. This protective membrane has two layers to it, the first being the parietal which covers the abdominal cavity. The second being the visceral layer which surrounds the organs of the abdomen like the stomach and liver. Asbestos fibers can get into the abdomen either by inhalation or swallowing. Symptoms may include abdominal pain and swelling, unexplained weight loss, night sweats, a feeling of fullness, changes in bowel habits, nausea, fatigue, diarrhea/constipation, and anemia. This is the second common type of mesothelioma.
3. Pericardial Mesothelioma: this type develops during the later stages of mesothelioma cancer and is incredibly hard to diagnose as it is mesothelioma of the heart. The reason it is so hard to diagnose is that it has similar symptoms to other heart conditions. Symptoms include fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, fluid build-up, fever, heart palpitations, and a thickening of the pericardial layers. This is a rare form of mesothelioma and is tied to pleural mesothelioma.
4. Testicular Mesothelioma: this type develops in the membrane that lines the testes. This is an incredibly rare form, occurring in only one percent of all cases, and is not tied to other forms of mesothelioma or even asbestos exposure. Symptoms may include pain, fluid build-up and swelling in the testes. This is the rarest form of mesothelioma and also has one of the highest survival rates out of the four types.
Stages of Mesothelioma
With regards to the stages, pleural mesothelioma is the only type that has an official staging system. There are four stages to this type of mesothelioma, with the first two stages having the highest survival rate after a positive diagnoses.
Stage One: during this stage, the tumors are localized in and around the tissue of one lung. This means that the cancer cells have not spread to the lymph nodes or into the bloodstream, making the prognosis for survival longer. If you only have tumors in the pleural lining on one side of the chest, this is stage 1A. Whereas, if you have tumors that are spreading to other tissues that are next to the pleural lining, this is stage 1B. Symptoms are coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fever. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and clinical trials. The survival rate at this stage is approximately 40-46% with a two-year timeline.
Stage Two: during this stage, the tumors may not have necessarily spread but they are getting into the lymph nodes and spreading to nearby tissues like the diaphragm. Even if the main tumor growth is small, if the cancer cells are moving into the lymphatic system, this is a stage two development. Symptoms may include chronic coughing, breathing difficulty, chest pain, and fever and is often misdiagnosed as flu or pneumonia. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and clinical trials. The survival rate at this stage is approximately 38% with a two-year timeline.
Stages with Lower Survival Rate
Stage Three: during this stage, the tumors have spread to other tissues and organs near the origin site and may also be in distant lymph nodes. Indicating that the cancer cells have spread through the bloodstream. If the tumors have grown into nearby tissues and organs like the diaphragm, lung, and mediastinum. The chest wall, heart sac, as well as the lymph nodes, this is stage 3A. If the cancer has spread so far that it cannot be removed with surgery, this is stage 3B. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, tightness or pain in the chest, and recurring dry cough. Treatment options include surgery (if stage 3A), chemotherapy, radiation therapy, palliative care, clinical trials, and alternative and complementary therapies. The survival rate at this stage is approximately 26-30% with a two-year timeline.
Stage Four: during this stage, cancer cells have spread to distant organs like the abdomen, liver, and bones. Unfortunately, even with aggressive treatment, many patients are unable to withstand treatment. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, pain and tightness in the chest. Also fatigue, difficulty swallowing, night sweats, coughing up blood, and abdominal discomfort. Treatment options include surgery (high rate of recurrence though), chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, clinical trials, supportive care, and alternative therapies. The survival rate at this stage is approximately 17% with a two-year timeline.
It is important to keep in mind that there are other factors beyond the staging system that affect survival rates. Those who have epithelioid mesothelioma cell types will live longer than those who have sarcomatoid or biphasic cell sub-types. Other factors include the age of the individual, the gender of the individual, and the race of the individual.
People diagnosed with mesothelioma should take a look into all of the treatment options available. Any positive combination of these can completely alter the life expectancy timeline. The disease doesn’t have to be an immediate death sentence, as many individuals surpass their expected timeline. Some who have even had their cancer go into remission. So, if diagnosed, make sure that you are being proactive about treatment.
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