Mesothelioma Overview – Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that affects the mesothelium membrane lining the body’s vital organs. This tissue secretes a fluid that allows organs such as the lungs to move easily. When mesothelioma cancer develops in this tissue, the patient has difficulty breathing and severe pain in the affected area.
Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral fiber that can be found in building, industrial, automotive and household materials. When materials containing asbestos are cut, sanded, drilled or otherwise disturbed, the fibers become airborne. Anyone in the vicinity may inhale the microscopic fibers, which can lodge in the mesothelium and eventually lead to mesothelioma.
Although safety regulations have been in place since the 1970s to protect people from asbestos, many individuals who were exposed years ago continue to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, which has a latency period of 15 to 60 years. About 3,000 people are diagnosed with the asbestos cancer each year in the United States.
Because asbestos fibers are most often inhaled, mesothelioma patients typically begin experiencing symptoms in the lungs and chest. However, the cancer can affect the abdominal organs, heart, and testicles.
Symptoms of mesothelioma may mimic those of other respiratory diseases such as pneumonia or the flu. However, patients who have been exposed to asbestos should alert their doctors immediately if they experience:
- Pain in the chest or abdomen, which can start as mild and progress to severe
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent and painful cough
- Buildup of fluid on the lungs, known as pleural effusion
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lumps under the skin
- Fever or night sweats
Your doctor should conduct a physical exam and discuss your work or military service history to better understand your exposure to asbestos. The doctor will order a chest X-ray, CT scan and/or MRI to hep with diagnosis. Ultimately, the doctor will need to do a biopsy to make a mesothelioma diagnosis.
There is no cure for mesothelioma, but there are several treatment options that aim to improve a patient’s quality of life and prognosis. The path for treatment will be determined by the patient’s overall health and the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed.
Mesothelioma treatment options may include:
- Surgery, which can be performed in the healthiest patients to remove as much of the affected tissue or organ as possible. The most common surgeries for mesothelioma are extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP), pleurectomy decortication (P/D) and cytoreduction (or debulking).
- Radiation therapy, which can be used in conjunction with surgery to target small areas of cancer left in the body. Radiation can also be used as a palliative treatment to reduce symptoms and make the patient more comfortable.
- Chemotherapy, which is also used in conjunction with other mesothelioma treatments to kill rapidly dividing cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can also kill healthy cells in the body that are dividing rapidly, which results in serious side effects such as hair loss.
In addition to these traditional treatments, patients may seek out emerging treatments such as immunotherapy or sign up for clinical trials with experimental treatments. Holistic treatments may also be used to care for the patient as a whole.
The median life expectancy for a patient diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma is less than a year. For those who are diagnosed at an early stage, research has shown aggressive treatment can increase life expectancy to two to five years.
Types of Mesothelioma
The mesothelium lines the chest wall and lungs, abdominal cavity and abdominal organs, heart, and testicles. Asbestos fibers can lodge anywhere in this lining and begin irritating the tissue, eventually leading to mesothelioma. However, the most common location for mesothelioma is in the lining of the chest cavity and lungs.
Mesothelioma is categorized into four types:
Pleural mesothelioma affects the mesothelial tissue lining the chest wall and the lungs. Because asbestos fibers are inhaled, this is the most common type of mesothelioma, accounting for about 75 percent of cases. As the cancer spreads, it may affect the heart, the diaphragm and other organs.
Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the mesothelial tissue lining the abdominal cavity and abdominal organs. It is the second-most common type of mesothelioma, accounting for 10 to 15 percent of new cases each year.
Pericardial mesothelioma affects the tissue lining the heart. This type of mesothelioma is very rare, accounting for 1 to 5 percent of cases.
Testicular mesothelioma, also known as mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis testis, is the rarest form of the disease, with very few cases reported and little research available.
Financial Help for Mesothelioma Patients
Affording treatment for mesothelioma can be difficult for patients and their families. Medical bills for a person who has been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, for example, can quickly top $100,000 for initial treatment, not including the ongoing care costs. Many times, family members must take off work to care for their loved one as the disease progresses.
However, patients and families do have options for obtaining financial help after a mesothelioma diagnosis, including:
Asbestos bankruptcy funds, which have been set up by various companies that manufactured asbestos products. These funds were established to provide compensation to current and future victims of asbestos diseases, as well as the families they may leave behind.
Mesothelioma lawsuits, which help a patient or family recover compensation from asbestos companies in the form of a settlement or a jury award. A mesothelioma lawsuit can demand payment for past and future medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and funeral and burial expenses.
Veterans’ benefits, which are available to mesothelioma patients who were exposed to asbestos during their time in the service. Veterans, in particular Navy veterans, make up about 30 percent of mesothelioma cases in the United States.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, which may be available to patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma before they reach retirement age.
Workers’ compensation benefits, which may be available to patients who were forced to quit working due to mesothelioma, which is considered an occupational illness.
You will need an experienced attorney who understand how asbestos claims work in order to pursue the financial compensation your family deserves after a mesothelioma diagnosis. The knowledgeable and compassionate legal team at Mesothelioma Help has secured compensation for countless patients and families. The professionals at Mesothelioma Help can also connect you with medical specialists and support groups to help you through this difficult time.
Schedule a free consultation today to discuss your options with an experienced mesothelioma attorney.