Mesothelioma: What Is It?

As you probably know, cancer comes in many different forms and it can affect various parts of the body. As time goes on we are learning more about the exact causes of specific types of cancer and their prognosis. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that has been proven to be directly related to asbestos. It gets its name from the fact that it originates in the mesothelium, the lining that encapsulates many of the organs of the body, particularly the lungs and chest cavity.

Epithelioid mesothelioma Case 297

Epithelioid mesothelioma Case 297—Pulmonary Pathology (Flickr.com)

Unfortunately, Mesothelioma, like so many cancers, can be present for years – even decades, before we have symptoms. In fact, this type of cancer has in some cases, been present for as many as 30 – 50 years before physical symptoms appeared. When the patient finally begins suffering with symptoms, they are very similar to, or the same as those associated with many other conditions, such as Tuberculosis, and other lung cancers.

The most common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, fluid surrounding the lungs, and a harsh cough that may result in some blood being coughed up. To be properly diagnosed many tests are in order. The tests are likely to include x-rays, CT scans, and/or MRIs.

We are seeing fewer cases of this type of cancer because the government now has rulings on asbestos use and its removal from old buildings. In the years gone by asbestos was often wrapped around water pipes, used in flooring and in ceiling tiles. Obviously it is the construction workers and others that would have been involved in such buildings and the making of these products, as well as the asbestos miners that are most at risk.

Nowadays OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) carefully monitors the removal of asbestos in these old buildings. Workers are provided with protective gear, including masks, to protect them from exposure.

Although the prognosis for this type of cancer is bleak, early diagnosis can sometimes mean extra time. The reason is that the cancer can be caught in an earlier stage (1 or 2), and treatment can begin immediately – possibly preventing the cancer from spreading to other organs or the blood. If the cancer is discovered at stage 3 or 4 it has most likely already progressed to a point that is more difficult to treat.

The good news is that new drugs are being developed and tested every day. A diagnosis of Mesothelioma is not a death sentence. There are now many medications available that have greatly improved the prognosis.