The word “malignant” has a host of unpleasant connotations, and if you have recently received a diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma, it is natural to feel overwhelmed, afraid or even angry. This is also true if it is a loved one who has just received this diagnosis rather than yourself. Although these feelings may be very strong, it’s important to still take a close look at the disease you’re facing so you can make the most education possible decisions with the time you have left. In this article, we will discuss what exactly malignant mesothelioma is as well as what causes it. We will also talk about symptoms, prognosis and life expectancy, and wrap up with treatment options so you know what you ask your physician about next time you talk. Knowledge is power, and hopefully knowing more about your disease can make it less frightening and ensure the rest of your days are as pleasant and well-spent as possible.
What Is Malignant Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the lining of several internal organs (the lungs, heart, stomach and genitals) as well as the lining of the chest cavity. This lining is called mesothelium, hence the name of the disease. The word “malignant,” when added to the name, indicates that the disease is resistant to all known types of treatment, so there is no possibility of putting the disease into remission or extending life.
Although this is no doubt a very hard thing to hear, and might make you want to just check out of the process entirely, it is still crucial that you’re informed about the causes, symptoms and potential treatment. For one thing, this can help you keep track of your symptoms and better respond to pain management, making your last days more pleasant. For another, in some cases the families of people who have had high levels of exposure have also been exposed, so it’s important to understand exactly what the warning signs are.
Malignant Mesothelioma Causes
The main cause of mesothelioma is asbestos. Although factors such as smoking or environmental pollutants can contribute to developing mesothelioma, people who develop the disease have been exposed to asbestos at some point in their lives.
Asbestos has been used in industrial applications, home building, the auto industry and the military for decades, with heavy use beginning in the mid-20th century. The National Institutes of Health estimate that more than 11 million people were exposed between 1940 and 1978, which means that the 37,000 lives claimed by asbestos between 1999 and 2013 are likely the tip of the iceberg.
Especially given the long latency period – meaning the length of time between exposure and the development of symptoms – it is likely to keep increasing over the next several decades.
Malignant Mesothelioma & Asbestos Exposure
Exactly how asbestos causes cells to become cancerous and form tumors is not entirely understood, nor do scientists know exactly how asbestos fibers travel to places in the body such as the heart or genitals. However, the mechanism by which people become exposed to asbestos is understood.
Asbestos, a natural substance that forms long, microscopic fibers, is an excellent insulator, resistant to both heat and electricity. However, it is friable, meaning it breaks easily when brushed or moved. When this happens, fibers scatter and become airborne, where they are easily inhaled by workers or other people exposed to them. The fibers pass through lungs and into the lining surrounding them, called the pleura, where they burrow in and become lodge. From there, they may pass to other lining tissues of other organs.
There are several theories about how asbestos fibers affect the mesothelium, or lining of several internal organs, resulting in cancer. These include proposals that asbestos causes cell damage because the fibers are irritating to them, eventually causing cancerous tumors to form, or that asbestos fibers cause free radicals to form, which damage DNA and cause cancerous mutations. No matter what happens, the cancer cells begin to divide continuously rather than undergoing a natural cycle of cell birth, life and death, which forms tumors and eventually spreads to the rest of the body.
Sadly, asbestos can be carried on the clothing, which means that if you were exposed to it for many years, you should have your family checked for mesothelioma symptoms.
Malignant Mesothelioma Symptoms
In the case of malignant mesothelioma, it is too late for many kinds of treatment and life expectancy is short. However, symptoms can still provide a valuable tool to help physicians treat you most effectively for pain and longevity. Early symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain and a persistent cough, similar to many viral infections (with which mesothelioma is often confused).
In later stages of the disease, which you are in if you have been diagnosed with a malignant form, symptoms vary depending on which organ is affected. In cases of pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs, the most common symptoms are night sweats, fever and weight loss, while symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma (affecting the lining of stomach and abdomen) include pain or swelling in the abdominal area, nausea, weight loss, obstructions in the bowel, and anemia.
Your symptoms can not only point doctors toward treatments to help you feel better, which we will discuss below, but can help them make a proper diagnosis.
Malignant Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Getting the proper diagnosis for your malignant mesothelioma is crucial. First of all, you want to make sure your doctors know exactly what they’re dealing with to ensure that their treatments help you feel the best you can. Secondly, depending on where you working in the past and how you were exposed to asbestos, you may be eligible for compensation from your former employer that can help your family and can assist in making others aware of the problem of asbestos.
Both mean getting an accurate diagnosis is important, so if you can, it’s important to undergo all the tests doctors need to determine your specific type and location of mesothelioma. That will also help them make a more accurate prognosis.
Malignant Mesothelioma Prognosis
Your mesothelioma prognosis is the predicted path of the disease from the time of your diagnosis to the time of death. Some people find it comforting to know how the disease will progress, but the most important aspect of your prognosis is it informs your treatment plan. Unfortunately, if your mesothelioma is malignant, there isn’t much doctors can do beyond simply making you comfortable.
Malignant Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
With malignant mesothelioma, life expectancy is very short. The median life expectancy for mesothelioma patients ranges from about 12 to 21 months, but for those with malignant versions of the disease, only about half make it to a year. Very few make it beyond that, since their disease does not respond to treatment.
Malignant Mesothelioma Treatment
Treating malignant mesothelioma is basically a matter of providing palliative care, or pain relief. The most common treatments include surgery to try and remove the bulk of the cancer, while chemotherapy helps remove residual cancer cells. While this cannot cure the disease, it does generally improve quality of life.
Other experimental treatments are also a possibility. Immunotherapy helps rev up your immune system so it can fight the disease more effectively, while experimental gene therapy may be able to use genes to help you fight the disease. Other alternative therapies may be able to help you manage pain and live more comfortably, so ask your physician about also possible options.
Malignant Mesothelioma Statistics
While mesothelioma is a fairly rare form of cancer, it is scary because asbestos is so closely linked to it. That is to say, chances are very high (between 2 and 10 percent) that if you’ve been exposed to this mineral, you will develop the disease. Almost 3,000 people died of mesothelioma in 2013, and the numbers are only increasing. If you’d like to learn more, please get in touch.
Treatment for Mesothelioma Cancer
There are several options when it comes to the treatment of this asbestos-caused 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. We can also help you obtain a lawyer who can consult you on your legal rights as a victim of asbestos exposure.