Malignant mesothelioma is a very aggressive cancer—it is resistant to all currently known types of treatment. People affected by this type of mesothelioma cancer have a very poor prognosis; the one-year survival rate of those diagnosed with mesothelioma is just 50%.
The principal cause of mesothelioma cancer is asbestos exposure , and due to high rates of asbestos exposure in the twentieth century, the incidence rate of mesothelioma is steadily increasing and is likely to continue to increase for the next several decades.
How Asbestos Causes Cancer
The exact method by which asbestos causes cancer in mesothelial cells is presently unknown. However, there are four different theories:
- Asbestos causes irritation of mesothelial cells, leading to cell damage and eventually cancer
- Asbestos fibers enter mesothelial cells and damage molecules that are crucial for normal cell division
- Asbestos fibers promote the formation of free radicals, which cause damage to DNA and cause mesothelial cells to mutate into cancer cells
- Asbestos fibers cause mesothelial cells to produce molecules called oncoproteins that cause them to turn into cancer cells
As with all other types of malignant cancer, the key element is that cells are caused to divide continuously. These cells eventually form tumors that prevent other cells and organs from functioning normally.
Symptoms of Malignant Mesothelioma
Early symptoms of malignant mesothelioma are non-specific and may often resemble viral infections—this means that early diagnosis of this type of cancer is difficult. Symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or a persistent cough are not uncommon. Night sweats, fever, and weight loss are less common in people with pleural mesothelioma. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include pain or swelling in the abdominal area, nausea, weight loss, obstructions in the bowel, and anemia.
Diagnosis of Malignant Mesothelioma
Diagnosing malignant mesothelioma quickly and accurately is very important for two reasons. First, correct diagnosis is essential so that patients can be treated with a minimum of delay. The second reason is that some patients may wish to try and obtain some kind of financial compensation from the company that was responsible for their asbestos cancer exposure.
Diagnosis is made on the basis of the patient's symptoms, in conjunction with a physical examination. This might include chest x-rays as well as other procedures that are designed to find out what type of cancer is involved and what stage it is at. The diagnosis is confirmed with biopsies or blood tests that determine whether or not cancerous cells are present in the body.
Prognosis of Malignant Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma prognosis (life expectancy) for people with malignant mesothelioma is generally very poor. Early symptoms of the disease are so non-specific that this type of cancer is difficult to diagnose early, and by the time an accurate diagnosis is confirmed, around 50% of patients will die within one year.
Treatment for Mesothelioma Cancer
The most common treatments for malignant mesothelioma are surgery and chemotherapy, which are usually used in conjunction with each other. Surgical procedures typically involve removing malignant cells to improve the patient's quality of life and are usually followed up with chemotherapy to remove residual cancer cells.
Other forms of treatment are largely experimental. These types of treatment include immunotherapy and gene therapy. Immunotherapy involves manipulating the body's own immune system in an effort to induce it to kill cancer cells. Gene therapy involves using a virus that has been genetically engineered to infect cancer cells and cause them to produce molecules that are capable of killing only malignant mesothelioma cells.
To learn more about treatment options or financial assistance after a mesothelioma diagnosis, contact mesothelioma treatment centers today.