Most people know that asbestos exposure is dangerous and potentially deadly, but many aren’t clear on exactly how this commonly used substance leads to cancer. In this article, we will discuss how exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma cancer, focusing specifically on pleural mesothelioma, which affects the outer lining of the lungs.
We will also talk more specifically about the causes of asbestos, what factors go into your diagnosis and prognosis, and treatment options that can help you extend your life or the life of your loved ones. Understanding the disease and all your options can help you make more informed choices that better the remainder of your life.
What Is Pleural Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the lining of several internal organs and the chest cavity, called the mesothelium. Pleural mesothelioma affects the pleura, or the casing around the lungs. This casing protects the lungs and holds liquid, and pleural mesothelioma affects the cells that make up this casing.
Between 70 and 90 percent of mesothelioma cases are pleural, with the remainder affecting the lining of the heart, stomach, abdomen or genitals.
Pleural Mesothelioma Causes
The cause of pleural mesothelioma – like all types of mesothelioma – is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that occurs in very small amounts in many parts of nature, but is highly concentrated in asbestos mines as well as in many buildings, shipyards and industrial applications in the mid-20th century. Fibers are also used in roofing, tile, pipes, boilers, brake shoes and clutch pads for cars, paints, adhesives and more. While “new uses” of asbestos have been banned in the United States, it still exists in many buildings and we still frequently import asbestos-containing products from other countries.
Pleural Mesothelioma Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos fibers are microscopically small and thin, resistant to both heat and electricity, which makes them excellent for insulation. The problem is that asbestos fibers are also friable, meaning they splinter and become airborne when broken, and are easily inhaled by workers. Once inside the lungs, the fibers move through the airways and eventually reach the lining of the lungs. They then cause changes in pleural cells, which over time become cancerous.
Anyone who has had significant levels of asbestos exposure over time has a good chance of developing mesothelioma.
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
Mesothelioma symptoms depend on which type of disease it is, but generally mirror other diseases affecting that organ. For instance, sufferers of pericardial mesothelioma (which affects the lining of the heart) often notice symptoms similar to heart disease. In the case of pleural mesothelioma, the symptoms are similar to lung cancer.
Mesothelioma has a very long latency period, which means that between the time you are exposed to asbestos and the time you develop cancer, 20 to 50 years may have passed. This makes mesothelioma particularly dangerous, because most people don’t recognize the symptoms for what they are until it’s too late and treatment is very limited. To give yourself the best chance of extending your life, it’s crucial to know the signs, because then you might catch mesothelioma early or note when the disease progresses, which is crucial information for your healthcare provider.
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Coughing, rasping, wheezing and difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Rib pain
Later on, as the disease progresses, you might notice symptoms such as:
- Coughing up blood
- Weight loss
- Fever or night sweats
- Pleural effusion, or fluid between the lungs and chest cavity wall
There are also some signs and symptoms shared by all types of mesothelioma. These include changes in appetite, pain in the neck or face, blood-clotting problems, fever anemia, general fatigue and jaundice. Sadly, many of the most reliable symptoms (those most commonly associated with the disease) develop after mesothelioma has already metastasized and moved to other organs or areas of the body.
Pleural Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Getting an accurate diagnosis of mesothelioma is one of the best ways to ensure your treatment plan is effective. Typically doctors will make this diagnosis after listening to you describe your symptoms and then performing a range of tests, including X-rays, CT scans and MRI scans. These diagnostic tools can help determine which type of mesothelioma you have, and suggest a good treatment course.
Other factors involved in making a diagnosis include the type of cells involved. About 50 percent of mesothelioma cases involve epithelial cells, or the cells that make up lining tissue. About 15 percent of cases involve sarcomatoid cells, which affect connective tissues. The remaining 35 percent of cases are mixed, involving both cell types.
Pleural Mesothelioma Prognosis
Unfortunately, some types of mesothelioma are much harder to treat than others. Pleural mesothelioma is easier to treat than other types, while epithelial mesothelioma is much easier to treat than sarcomatoid mesothelioma. The latter is very resistant to treatment, so if you have this type, most likely your options will be limited to palliative care.
Your prognosis, or how physicians predict your disease will progress from the time of diagnosis, involves multiple factors. For one thing, it depends on the stage of the disease. The stages are as follows:
- Stage 1: Localized tumor on one side of the pleural lining, with no lymph node involvement. Surgery is still a good option.
- Stage 2: The tumor has moved to the other side of the pleural lining. Lymph nodes may be involved, but surgery is still an option.
- Stage 3: The cancer has invaded a single region of the body and usually spread to the lymph nodes. At this point, surgery is usually no longer an option.
- Stage 4: Usually by this stage the cancer has spread to other organs and life expectancy is relatively short.
Other factors that go into prognosis include your age, lifestyle before diagnosis, and which other treatment options (chemotherapy or radiation, for example) are still possibilities.
Pleural Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
Life expectancy when you receive a diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma is typically fairly short. Roughly 40 percent of patients with pleural mesothelioma survive for about a year after starting treatment, while only about 20 percent survive longer than two years. After five years, only about 5 percent of patients are still alive.
Still, that is better than it used to be, and the numbers are improving slowly but surely. For the best possible chance of survival, you should talk to your physician or medical team about the treatments available to you. This will depend on your prognosis and how far advanced your disease is, but for most there are still a variety of possible treatment options, even if they are purely palliative … in other words, to help with pain. Let’s look at those now.
Pleural Mesothelioma Treatment
Treatment is much more effective in the early stages of the disease. In stages 1 and 2, when surgery is still an option, some patients even go into remission, which means a complete disappearance of symptoms. In earlier and later stages, chemotherapy and radiation may provide some benefits, and immunotherapy can help bolster your immune system to make it fight the disease more effectively.
Alternative treatments include experimental gene therapy, cannabis oil and supplements. It is helpful to be open-minded about treatment options, especially in the later stages of the disease, as these can provide much in the way of comfort.
Pleural Mesothelioma Statistics
Mesothelioma killed more than 37,000 Americans between 1999 to 2013. Of those who have had heavy, prolonged exposure to asbestos, between 2 and 10 percent will develop pleural mesothelioma. More than 11 million people were exposed to asbestos between 1940 and 1978, which most likely means there will be many more cases in coming years.
If you would like to learn more about treatment and financial options, please feel free to get in touch with us.
Learn More about Pleural Mesothelioma
Contact Mesothelioma Treatment Centers today to learn more about the treatment and financial options if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. We can also provide information regarding both your legal and your medical rights. Pleural mesothelioma will drastically alter your life and the lives of your family members, both emotionally and financially. Obtaining an asbestos lawyer is the right step to protect your legal rights. When you contact us, we can put you in touch with an attorney who is experienced in cases involving pleural mesothelioma and who can review all of your legal options.