Cancer Resource: Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that develops in the lining of the organs and internal body cavity, a membrane known as the mesothelium. The main cause of mesothelioma is prolonged exposure to asbestos, which has been used in the construction industry, shipbuilding, and even in vehicle brakes. The most common place inside the body where mesothelioma occurs is the outer lining of the lungs but it can also occur in the lining of the heart, the membrane of the abdominal cavity, and the tunica vaginalis. Mesothelioma was first recognized in the 18th century, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that the causes and characteristics of the disease were more fully understood.

Mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive and painful malignancy, causing pain and discomfort in locations such as the chest and abdomen. Other symptoms of the disease include blood in the patient's cough, fluid effusion in patient's lung, shortness of breath, fatigue and wheezing. If the cancer is not detected early enough, it could metastasize (spread to other organs in the body), and develop into extensive disease. The majority of mesothelioma cancers do not spread to the brain, bones, or the adrenal glands. Other signs and symptoms that many mesothelioma patients suffer from include any of the following:

  • Pain in the chest or abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Blood clotting
  • Jaundice
  • Severe internal bleeding

Diagnosis of mesothelioma can be difficult for most medical professionals because the signs and symptoms are so closely related to those of other thoracic diseases and malignancies. Doctors will rely on the patient to provide them with any information regarding a working history with asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that was used in a number of different industrial capacities as an insulation and durability component until being regulated in the late 1970s.

There are four types of mesothelioma: pleural (which accounts for 75 percent of all cases and surrounds the lining of the lungs), peritoneal (which forms in the lining of the abdominal cavity and accounts for roughly 10 to 20 percent of all cases), pericardial (which occurs in the membrane of the heart and occurs only in one to five percent of all cases) and testicular (which occurs in the lining around the testicles and is the rarest form, with only 100 cases ever recorded).

The three most common methods of treatment for mesothelioma include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Depending on the size of the tumor and the location, the patient may elect to use either one or more of these methods to effectively treat the disease. There is no cure for mesothelioma.

Sources

Fox Chase Cancer Center
http://www.fccc.edu

Mayo Clinic: Mesothelioma
http://www.mayoclinic.org/mesothelioma/

United States Department of Labor: Asbestos
http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/asbestos/

National Cancer Institute
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/asbestos

Medicine Plus: Asbestos
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/asbestos.html

Pennsylvania DEP: All About Asbestos
http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/airwaste/aq/asbestos/asbestos.htm

Medicine Net: Mesothelioma Symptoms
http://www.medicinenet.com/mesothelioma/article.htm

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