Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer. Each year around 3000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States itself. It has been officially recorded that more than 75 percent of mesothelioma cases are directly related to inhalation of asbestos microfibers. However it is also known that mesothelioma has been reported in certain individuals where there was no known response to asbestos directly or indirectly.
But it is well established that exposure to asbestos has a direct linkage to development of mesothelioma. Studies also indicate that family members and people living close to asbestos mine workers have an increased chance of having mesothelioma. This could be due to the fact that the asbestos mines worker brings home microscopic fibers of asbestos home with their hair and clothes. Also the people who reside close to the asbestos mines are at a higher risk of developing this rare form cancer.
What Is Mesothelioma?
The protective lining of the various internal organs of the body is known as mesothelium. Cancer or abnormal and uncontrolled growth of this lining is called as mesothelioma. Most of the mesothelioma begins at the pleural mesothelium or the one lining around the pleural cavity or lungs. It can also start from abdominal cavity and the heart although this happens rarely. Irrespective of their origin or starting point, the malignant cells of mesothelium are capable of invading adjacent cells, tissues and organs.
The problem with mesothelioma is diagnosed the disease reaches the advanced state. As it mostly starts with the pleural cavity, mostly patients affected with this cancer develop problems in the lungs. The cause of death also is primarily due to respiratory failure and pneumonia. Sometimes patient death may be due to cardiac complications as the origin of mesothelioma is pericardium which surrounds the heart.
How Mesothelioma Occurs?
Mesothelioma has been linked to the exposure of asbestos in areas where asbestos is manufactured in large industrial scale. Asbestos is widely used throughout the world as it is having resistance to heat, fire and various chemicals. Asbestos is also known to be non-conductor of electricity.
This makes asbestos highly sought for construction as well as automotive industries. The problem associated with asbestos is that it consists of microscopic fibers. The fibers are so small that they float in the air in the areas of manufacture and processing. When a person inhales these microscopic asbestos fibers or swallows them, serious health implications arise. Zeolite and erionite are minerals which are closely associated with asbestos. It is believed that exposure to such minerals is also a reason for the development of mesothelioma.
Thorium dioxide injections were being given to workers in chest X-rays until 1950s. Doctors have also found that such patients also developed mesothelioma. Experts also believe that few individuals may be genetically prone to mesothelioma.
The symptoms of mesothelioma do not appear so early. It takes almost 20 to 50 years to surface out after the initial to asbestos or related substances. By the time the symptoms of mesothelioma are observed and the disease is detected, it almost reaches the advanced stage from where it is not possible to treat.
The major symptoms of mesothelioma are breathing problems and chest pain. Fluid generally gets accumulated in the pleural cavity. It may cause shortness of breath. Other symptoms also include weight loss, bowel obstruction, swelling and pain abdomen, fever, anemia and blood clotting abnormalities.
Being cancerous it spreads to other body parts. If that has occurred then symptoms may include like pain, swallowing difficulties, and swelling of face and neck regions. As many other diseases also have the same symptoms, merely having these symptoms does not confirm the development of mesothelioma in a particular patient. It is highly recommended that a person goes for medical check-up and ask for consultation of physician for any confirmation of mesothelioma.
The course of treatment for mesothelioma depends on the stage at which it has been detected. Conventionally the approach is for radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery. The surgery involves removal of the solid tumor which is spreading. Although risky it can save the life of the patient. Individual patient is to be monitored by physician and decision is to be taken on whether surgery is required or not.
Chemotherapy can be done by providing medication through oral route so that the spreading of the cancer is prevented. Chemotherapy is generally required before as well as after surgery. In case of patients who don’t want to undergo surgery chemotherapy can be initiated. It only depend on the stage of the disease for which whether chemotherapy will be sufficient or not.
The most widely used drugs in case of mesothelioma are cisplastin and pemetrxed. Combination of these drugs and other FDA approved drugs can also be decided by the physician depending on the patient in case.
Being a very rare disease, and having less capital gaining potential for the big pharmaceutical companies, not vast amount of research work has been put into this area. Still the good news is that due to the efforts of various governments and NGOs some research has been done in this area. The life expectancy of the patients affected by this disease has slowly moved from months to years in the recent years.
A lot depends on the stage at which the disease has been detected, the skill of the physician in managing the proper treatment, the compliance of the patient and the care with which the patient is kept. Generally a patient in stage I is expected to live 21 months, in stage II 19 months, in stage III 16 months and in stage IV 12 months.
Being a rare cancer disease mesothelioma goes undetected till may years and it generally gets detected in the advanced stages. As it is widely found in people associated with asbestos, they should be careful and opt for health check-up at regular intervals.
So this article basically gives a gist of mesothelioma life expectancy in short.