There are three types of mesothelioma cancer, with each affecting different parts the body. The most common type of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma, affects the lining of the lungs. Symptoms include, among others, difficulty breathing, chest pain and dysphagia. The other forms of mesothelioma, which comprise a smaller percentage of diagnoses, affect the lining of the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma) and heart (pericardial mesothelioma). Most diagnoses are attributed to inhalation or ingestion of asbestos particles.
As with any type of cancer, maintaining overall health is critical to the effectiveness of treatment and overall prognosis. It is important to prevent other illnesses, like the cold or flu. These common illnesses pose greater risks with cancer patients, especially those with reduced immune response capacity.
Mesothelioma patients – regardless of stage or type of mesothelioma – are at a higher risk of contracting the flu. It is not known whether cancer patients, including those with mesothelioma, are at a higher risk of flu infection, but are at risk for potentially serious complications from the illness. Flu vaccinations are usually recommended for mesothelioma and other cancer patients.
Risks of Influenza with Mesothelioma
Influenza virus infection, commonly known as the flu, is a seasonal virus that can pose serious risks for compromised individuals. H1N1 or swine flu has become more prevalent in the United States, and can cause similarly seriously health complications as seasonal influenza in mesothelioma cancer patients. If left untreated, influenza can complicate ongoing treatment, prolong hospital stays, and may cause death.
For pleural mesothelioma patients, influenza can exacerbate cancer symptoms. As the lining of the lungs is affected, individuals struggle to breathe, cough and have difficulty swallowing. If an individual with mesothelioma contracts influenza, breathing can become more difficult. Coughing brought on by the flu can rupture delicate blood vessels in the lungs.
If a mesothelioma patient is undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment, typically their immune systems are compromised and suppressed, thus making it easier to contract the flu.
Symptoms of Influenza and H1N1
Influenza and H1N1 have similar symptoms including body aches, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, and fever. With some people, the flu can induce stomach pains or diarrhea. And particularly in pleural mesothelioma patients, extensive and painful coughing bouts may accompany the flu.
The concern with cancer patients is that many influenza symptoms mimic mesothelioma symptoms including coughing, fatigue and body aches. It is critical for mesothelioma patients to monitor any changes in symptoms, and with any significant changes, seek immediate medical care.
For individuals with malignant mesothelioma, contracting influenza may exacerbate their underlying condition and symptoms. These individuals must take extra precaution during the flu season.
Prevention and Care
Vaccination is the best preventative measure for influenza. Each annual vaccine lasts through the influenza season, and with the continuous mutations of influenza, every new annual vaccination adapts to these variations.
In years past, individuals were encouraged to get both the seasonal influenza shot along with the H1N1 vaccine. However, now both vaccines are available in one shot, and may be recommended for mesothelioma patients.
It is recommended that caregivers, family and friends of individuals with mesothelioma take extra precaution against the flu. Individuals who have regular contact with mesothelioma patients are recommended to receive the vaccination, and if they are in good health, may receive the nasal spray. The nasal spray is not recommended for mesothelioma patients.
Though a vaccination is the primary preventative measure against influenza, mesothelioma patients should develop healthy habits to stave off any infection. Preventative measures include:
- Limit contact with caregivers, family and friends who may have been exposed
- Wash hands with soap and water
- Dispose used tissues
- Cover nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing
- Maintain hydration
Also, mesothelioma patients may wear face masks when traveling outside or in the presence of an individual showing flu-like symptoms. Since influenza can travel up to six feet, face masks prevent germs from entering the eyes, nose or mouth. If influenza develops, individuals are encouraged to stay away from public places until twenty-four hours after the fever has broken.
Caregivers, family and friends of mesothelioma patients must also take extreme caution during the influenza season. Vaccines are also recommended for caregivers and other individuals who have regular contact with mesothelioma patients. If a caregiver suspects they may have contracted influenza, it is recommended that they refrain from visiting the mesothelioma patient until they have recovered completely.
It is critical that an individual with mesothelioma suspects a possible exposure to influenza seek immediate medical care. Consideration of an individual’s current mesothelioma treatment plan is important for influenza prevention and treatment.
American Cancer Society. Seasonal and H1N1 Flu Vaccine Information. Accessed on November 20, 2010.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cancer, the Flu, and You: What Cancer Patients, Survivors, and Caregivers Should Know About the Flu. Accessed on November 20, 2010.