Mesothelioma Info: What You Need to Know About This Cancer Linked to Asbestos

about 3,200 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year but early detection can increase your odds of survival

Mesothelioma Info: What You Need to Know About This Cancer Linked to Asbestos
Image: Pixabay
January 31, 2018

You may have heard of mesothelioma from a law ad on television promising big financial settlements, or you or someone you know may have unfortunately been diagnosed with this deadly disease. But what exactly is mesothelioma?

What is Mesothelioma Cancer?

Mesothelioma cancer is a rare and often deadly type of cancer linked to asbestos exposure that results in about 3,200 new diagnoses in the U.S. each year. Mesothelioma typically occurs in the membrane that covers the lungs and chest cavity (pleura), the membrane lining the abdominal cavity, or membranes surrounding other internal organs. Symptoms of mesothelioma cancer may not appear until 30 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos and its links to mesothelioma cancer

Because of its fiber strength and heat resistant properties, asbestos was commonly used for insulation and as a fire retardant in buildings. While no longer used, asbestos is still in many older homes and buildings. Asbestos fibers can be released into the air by the disturbance of the material during product use, demolition work, maintenance, repair, or remodeling. Generally, exposure occurs when the material is disturbed or damaged in some way, releasing it into the air. Prolonged inhalation of asbestos can cause serious and fatal illnesses, including mesothelioma cancer.

Mesothelioma Symptoms

Most people who get mesothelioma cancer have worked where they inhaled asbestos particles. After being exposed to asbestos, it usually takes a long time for mesothelioma to form.

Mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Cough
  • Pain under the rib cage
  • Pain, swelling, or lumps in the abdomen
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Feeling very tired
  • Blood clot problems

Tests for Mesothelioma

It can be hard to tell the difference between malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer. So, it's important if you suspect that you may have mesothelioma to see your doctor. It is even more important to that you see a doctor regularly if you've ever been exposed to or possibly exposed to asbestos, which causes mesothelioma. Your doctor uses imaging tests and possibly a biopsy to make a mesothelioma diagnosis. Malignant mesothelioma is often found in the advanced stages, making it hard to treat, which is why early detection is essential.

  1. Physical Exam and Medical History
  2. A good physical exam and medical history checks you for your general signs of health, including looking for signs of diseases, including mesothelioma. Lumps or anything out of the ordinary is examined more closely. Your medical history, as well as your health habits, past illnesses, past treatments, and history of asbestos exposure are also taken.

  3. Chest X-Ray
  4. A doctor may x-ray organs and bones inside your chest to check for signs of mesothelioma or lung cancer. Anything that looks suspicious can be examined more closely.

  5. CT or CAT Scan
  6. A doctor may want to take a more detailed look inside your chest or abdomen from different angles. You may be injected with or asked to swallow a dye that makes your organs and tissues show up more clearly.

  7. Biopsy
  8. A doctor may remove cells or tissues for viewing under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma treatment

While there is no cure for mesothelioma, treatment designed for prolong the lives of those who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma may include surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy. Surgery is the preferred option, but even the most successful surgeries can leave mesothelioma cells behind, so some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery. Doing so reduces the likelihood that mesothelioma will return.

Biologic therapy is in clinical trials. It uses the patient's immune system to fight mesothelioma using substances that boost, direct or restore the body's natural defenses.

Factors that Affect Mesothelioma treatment and Prognosis

  • Current stage
  • Tumor size
  • Amount of fluid in chest or abdomen
  • Can the tumor be completely removed by surgery
  • Age, activity level, and general health
  • Type of mesothelioma cells
  • White blood cell and hemoglobin count
  • Gender
  • New vs recurring mesothelioma (Recurrent Malignant Mesothelioma)

Mesothelioma Survival Rates

After being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, the median survival is approximately one year. Mesothelioma survival rates six months after diagnosis is approximately 55% and twelve months after diagnosis is 33%. Mesothelioma survival rates five years after diagnosis is only 9%. But mesothelioma survival rates for pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma are increasing due to recent medical advances.

Improving your odds of Surviving Mesothelioma

Asbestos can't be removed from the lungs, so preventing further harm to the respiratory system can lower the chances of mesothelioma or slow down the progress of mesothelioma. You should quit smoking and get flu and pneumonia vaccines.

Mesothelioma Law and claims

If you've ever watched television, then you have no doubt seen commercials from lawyers advertising mesothelioma law, or just "meso law." While many mesothelioma advertisements can come across as just another lawyer trying to make a buck, there are many good mesothelioma lawyers who specialize in seeking financial settlements for people exposed to asbestos and later diagnosed with mesothelioma.

While we can't make specific lawyer recommendations, you can see our free online North Carolina Law Directory if you would like to find the best mesothelioma lawyer. A mesothelioma lawyer can help you make a claim and get a financial settlement that takes care of you, your family, and your expenses.