Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive form of cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. Caused by asbestos, mesothelioma has no known cure and has a very poor prognosis.
According to a 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control, 2,400 – 2,800 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the United States each year. People who have worked with or been exposed to asbestos have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma. After being exposed to asbestos, mesothelioma symptoms can take 20 – 50 years to appear.
The life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is poor, as there is no cure for the disease. The stage of the disease, cell type, and location of the tumor(s) are the most important factors for a patient’s survival. Factors such as the patient’s overall health, age, and whether the cancer has spread also impact prognosis.
- How a disease will progress. A prognosis can be good or bad, and may include a life expectancy estimate.
- Life Expectancy
- How long a patient can expect to survive. This may change with treatment and other developments.
Heather Von St. James – Mesothelioma Survivor
Heather Von St. James is an 11-year pleural mesothelioma survivor who has become a spokeswoman for mesothelioma awareness and a proponent of banning asbestos. She also works with newly diagnosed mesothelioma patients as a mentor and advocate, helping them understand their treatment and legal options.
Types of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is most commonly classified by the location in the body where it develops. Specifically, the cancer forms in the lining of certain organs or spaces within the body, known as the mesothelium. Mesothelioma typically develops in one of three specific areas.
The most common type, pleural mesothelioma is caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers.
Inhaled or swallowed asbestos fibers can become trapped in the lining of the abdomen (the peritoneum).
In rare cases, asbestos fibers can get lodged in the pericardium, the lining around the heart cavity.
Diagnosing Mesothelioma Symptoms
Mesothelioma symptoms can take 20 – 50 years to appear after the first exposure to asbestos. The signs of mesothelioma often look like those of other diseases, which can lead to misdiagnosis. When someone exhibits mesothelioma symptoms, doctors perform a variety of tests to rule out other diseases. It normally takes weeks or months for doctors to arrive at an accurate mesothelioma diagnosis.
Common Symptoms of Mesothelioma
- Trouble breathing or chest pain.
- Effusion (fluid buildup) in the lungs or abdomen.
- Anemia (especially in women).
- Nausea / vomiting.
- Loss of weight.
Upon diagnosis, the doctor will categorize the disease into one of four stages. While there are several staging systems, the TNM System — which stands for tumor, lymph nodes, and metastasis — is the most commonly used.
The mesothelioma tumor is located in only one area and has not spread to other parts of the body.
A large tumor may have progressed to nearby areas and/or the lymph nodes, but has not gone on any further.
Tumors have typically spread beyond the local area to several nearby locations and the lymph nodes.
The tumors have spread into multiple areas and throughout the lymphatic system, invading other organs throughout the body.
Treatment for mesothelioma is similar to other types of cancer. The most common treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Newer treatments are being studied as part of clinical trials and may be available for some patients who do not respond to conventional therapies.
In some cases, treatment can improve a patient's prognosis, extending his/her life significantly. Treatment can also be used palliatively to reduce pain and discomfort caused by the symptoms of mesothelioma.Top Mesothelioma Doctors in the Country
Mesothelioma Financial Assistance
The costs of treating mesothelioma are significant. If you were exposed to asbestos on the job, in your home, or elsewhere, you have the right to recover these expenses from those responsible for the exposure.
Financial assistance is available to help offset the high cost of mesothelioma treatment. The primary ways mesothelioma patients and their families can receive compensation are:
- Legal Settlements – Victims of asbestos exposure can recover money from companies that produced, made, and distributed asbestos products.
- Asbestos Trust Funds – Trust funds have been established by former asbestos companies to pay for asbestos-related medical expenses.
- Veteran Benefits – Individuals exposed to asbestos while serving in the military can receive help through the Veterans Administration.
Resources for Mesothelioma Patients and Their Families
- Request a Free Mesothelioma Treatment Guide
- Connect with Top Mesothelioma Doctors
- Locate the Nearest Comprehensive Cancer Center
JM Mazurek; G Syamlal; JM Wood; SA Hendricks, A Weston. U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Malignant Mesothelioma Mortality — United States, 1999–2015. March 3, 2017:66(8);214–218. DOI: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6608a3
National Cancer Institute – Malignant Mesothelioma (Source)
Wagner, J.C., Sleggs, C.A., and Marchand, Paul. “Diffuse Pleural Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure in the North Western Cape Province.” Department of Thoracic Surgery: University of The Witswatersrand. Johannesburg, South Africa. 1960.
Grondin, Sean C., Sugarbaker, David J. “Pleuropneumonectomy in the Treatment of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma” Chest December 1999 116:suppl 3 450S-454S;
Rusch, Valerie W. “Indications for pneumoctomy. Extrapleural pneumonectomy”
Roggli VL, Sharma A, Butnor KJ, Sporn T, Vollmer RT (2002). "Malignant mesothelioma and occupational exposure to asbestos: a clinicopathological correlation of 1445 cases". Ultrastruct Pathol 26(2): 55–65.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital – International Mesothelioma Program (Source)