The Ultimate Guide to Mesothelioma: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments
Caregivers have an essential role in providing support to Mesothelioma patients. Through caregivers, patients can obtain financial and legal help, counseling, long-term care, and various treatment options.
Read on to understand how you can help families with mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma: An Overview
Mesothelioma, also known as malignant mesothelioma, is a cancerous condition on the internal tissues of body organs. Although Mesothelioma has various treatment options, it is a deadly cancer without an absolute cure.
Doctors categorize Mesothelioma into two types, depending on the area affected. Pleura Mesothelioma mainly affects the areas around the lungs, while Peritoneal Mesothelioma affects the areas around the abdomen, including the heart or testicles.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Patients may exhibit different symptoms depending on where the cancer forms. If you have the condition, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Painful coughing
- Chest pains
- Rapid weight loss
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Short breath
- Lumps on the chest
What Causes Mesothelioma?
According to Mayo Clinic, the causes of genetic mutations that cause the deadly condition aren’t clear. However, like other cancers, mutations in different cell structures lead to the constant growth and multiplication of cancer cells. After some time, the cells accumulate to form tumors.
In addition, some factors may increase your chances of having Mesothelioma. Top among them include:
- History of asbestos exposure
- A family history of Mesothelioma complications
- Having radiotherapy on the chest
- Living with someone exposed to asbestos
When Should You See a Doctor?
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer and may exhibit symptoms related to other conditions. However, if you notice persistent symptoms of the disease, it is advisable to seek treatment.
Moreover, Pleural Mesothelioma may sometimes spread onto the chest, putting significant pressure on the surrounding tissues. The result is a combination of severe symptoms that require immediate treatment.
If you notice any of the severe complications below, seek immediate treatment.
- Severe chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Trouble swallowing food
- Pain on the nerves and spinal cord
- Fluid accumulation in the chest
What Is the Average Life Span of Mesothelioma Patients?
The life expectancy for a patient diagnosed with Mesothelioma ranges between 4 and 18 months after diagnosis. However, that doesn’t mean Mesothelioma patients will die after a year. Some patients live longer depending on the cancer stage, cell type, and the location of the cancerous tumor.
Factors such as age, gender, and general health condition may also determine how long you may live after a Mesothelioma diagnosis. However, the most important determinant is the cancer stage, which depends on the size of the tumor and the extent of spread. Doctors may plan the best treatment to increase your survival rate depending on your condition.
The following factors determine the average life span:
Mesothelioma staging refers to a medical determination of the spread of the disease. Like all other cancers, Mesothelioma can occur in four stages. Unfortunately, life expectancy may reduce as the stage increases because the disease may spread to vital organs in the body.
There are three main cell types of cancer patients: Epithelial, Biphasic, and Sarcomatoid. Cell types respond to treatment differently, thus leading to varying life spans among Mesothelioma. For instance, if you have an epithelial tumor, you may live for 200 more days than patients with Sarcomatoid and Biphasic cell types.
It so happens because epithelial cells have a higher response to cancer treatment.
General Health Condition
Life expectancy after Mesothelioma diagnosis depends on your health condition and lifestyle. If you have other chronic diseases, they can severely affect your lifespan. Examples of chronic conditions include diabetes, cardiovascular complications, and bronchitis.
On the other hand, lifestyle habits such as frequent tobacco smoking can worsen your health condition and impact your survival after diagnosis.
Gender plays a critical role in determining infection and survival rates of Mesothelioma patients. According to asbestos.com, life expectancy in women after Mesothelioma diagnosis is 15.6%, while that of men is 8.8%.
Women have a lower diagnosis rate and a higher life expectancy than men. The main reason behind a higher life expectancy is that most women experience peritoneal Mesothelioma, which has a higher life expectancy.
On the other hand, most men experience pleural Mesothelioma, which has a lower life expectancy and is harder to treat.
In terms of age, younger patients have a higher life expectancy than older people. Younger patients are often eligible for more treatment options and clinical trials than older people. As a result, the difference in treatment options leads to higher life expectancy in younger patients.
How Long Can You Live With It Being Untreated?
Generally, you can live up to eight months without treatment after being diagnosed with Mesothelioma stage four. If you get an early diagnosis at stage 1, you can have a 60% chance of living up to a year or more without treatment. Life expectancy still depends on several factors, including age, gender, health condition, cancer stage, and tumor grade.
Although having Mesothelioma is a difficult moment in life, it is advisable to seek specialized treatment and adopt healthy habits to increase your life expectancy.
Does It Come Back?
Yes. Mesothelioma can return even after treatment. According to the Cancer Council of New South Wales, nearly every Mesothelioma patient will experience a resurgence of the condition years after treatment.
The American Cancer Society also affirms that cancer can reoccur after successful treatment or after being non-detectable for some time. A resurging Mesothelioma can occur at the same initial spot (local) or a different location within the body (regional).
When it reoccurs, your doctor will help you find appropriate palliative care depending on the symptoms, where it reoccurs, and your health condition.
Palliative treatment for Mesothelioma may involve the following:
- Radiation therapy
- Further chemotherapy
- Further surgery
- Clinical trials for new drugs
Treatment Options for Mesothelioma
There are two main treatment options for the condition to reduce the symptoms and extend the patient’s lifespan. Curative treatment options focus on increasing life span, while palliative treatment options focus on relieving pain and improving comfort. Usually, the doctors will prescribe a combination of many options for effective treatment.
The surgical operation effectively controls the spread of cancer cells in the body. Through surgery, mesothelioma specialists can remove tumors and surrounding tissues that exhibit infection symptoms. Depending on the type of cancer and the extent of spreading, the doctor will adopt several approaches to surgery.
After surgery, the doctor may still recommend chemotherapy and radiotherapy to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.
Surgical procedures include:
Wide Local Excision - Surgery performed to remove the cancer cells and surrounding tissues.
Decorticating - Surgical procedures to remove some tissues from the lungs and chest.
- Extrapleural Pneumonectomy - Surgical procedures to remove one lung, the chest lining, and some tissues around the heart.
Chemotherapy involves administering cancer-killing medication to help shrink and limit the growth of tumors. In some instances where cancer hasn’t spread significantly, chemotherapy may be an excellent substitute for surgery.
When administering chemotherapy, doctors can adopt various approaches. For instance, doctors can inject the drug into the veins, from where the drugs will reach the cancer cells in the body. Doctors may pump a heated solution of anti-cancer drugs into the abdomen to kill cancer cells in more pronounced cases.
Radiation is commonly effective for patients who have pleural mesothelioma. The technique uses electromagnetic waves to dislodge and destroy cancer cells. A machine outside the body emits the waves which primarily target the cancerous region.
The treatment strategy aims to boost a patient’s immunity to give the body the extra ability to fight cancer cells. Immunotherapy involves using a series of drugs to stimulate the body’s immunity. For many years, immunotherapy was only under clinical trial but is now an official treatment method after approval by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Tumor Treating Fields (TFT)
The Federal Drugs Administration approved TFT as an effective cancer treatment method in 2019. Under the new treatment method, doctors use liquid nitrogen to freeze and kill cancer cells in the body.
Reducing the Side Effects of Cancer Treatment
Patients usually undergo a series of treatments to relieve Mesothelioma symptoms and extend their life span. Depending on the treatment plan, patients may develop side effects to their treatment plans.
Below are six common side effects and treatment options to relieve side effects:
Patients may exhibit a loss of cognitive function after a session of chemotherapy. Thus, patients may have difficulty concentrating, recalling some words, and sometimes have memory lapses. Although most patients will have minor memory issues, some may have a long-lasting loss of cognitive ability.
Doctors may recommend the following treatment options:
Using a daily planner to keep track of appointments, meetings, and important dates.
Following a daily routine to accomplish different tasks.
Body and mind exercises such as solving crossword puzzles.
Keeping track of any noticeable cognitive challenges.
Most cancer patients experience sleep disorders after treatment or due to anxiety following the diagnosis. However, patients who exhibit sleep disorders usually have a medical examination to determine the extent and severity of the symptom.
Effective remedies for sleep disorders include:
- Aerobic exercises
- Avoiding short naps during the day
- Having a night routine
- Using sleep medication
Chemotherapy can cause severe or partial hair loss on the eyebrows, scalp, eyelashes, and the entire body. The effect is often due to drugs like pemetrexed which causes the hair to fall off when brushing or washing the hair.
It is, therefore, advisable to limit brushing and washing of the hair after a chemotherapy session. Additionally, patients may consider wearing some headgear before the session.
Severe Weight Loss
Mesothelioma patients usually experience wasting disorders that often lead to weight loss and degradation of skeletal muscle mass. As a result, patients will feel weak and not have the energy to perform their usual chores. If a patient has a weight loss exceeding 5% within six months, there should be a cause for alarm.
The following suggestions may help counter wasting disorder:
Adopting dietary adjustments to increase the rate of nutrients intake.
Physical exercises promote the development of healthy muscles.
Taking medications that stabilize weight gain.
Risk of Influenza
Mesothelioma can increase the risk of developing influenza owing to depleted immunity. If untreated, the condition can complicate the treatment, affect the lungs, and cause death. It is advisable to consult a doctor for the best treatment to manage influenza and colds.
Like other cancers, patients with Mesothelioma may experience pain in the joints and muscles. Sometimes, pain may spread to the chest, lungs, and abdomen, especially if there’s a tumor.
Pain relief may involve over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, nutritional changes, and physical activities such as yoga. For severe pains, stronger medication such as Ibuprofen may be necessary.
Mesothelioma Support Teams
Mesothelioma support teams offer care to patients and help them to improve their well-being. Here, patients can have a platform to share their feelings and success stories with other patients and families who have patients.
If you are a patient, consider joining a support team to share your experiences with cancer survivors and patients. You can find support groups from healthcare facilities, Mesothelioma cancer centers, and National Cancer Information Centers.
Mesothelioma support teams also offer support to family members and spouses with loved ones diagnosed with cancer. They can provide support towards handling a Mesothelioma patient and grieving with family if the patient dies.
Support teams may offer the following:
A Mesothelioma diagnosis comes with substantial costs in meeting doctor’s appointments, treatment, and routine trial tests. These may culminate in spending thousands of dollars that require financial support.
Below are a few institutions that offer financial support to patients:
- American Cancer Society
- National Cancer Information Center
- Mesothelioma Research Foundation of America
Mesothelioma is a rare condition that is equally difficult to treat. As a result, patients may require specialized treatment, requiring longer distances. Since traveling to cancer centers for treatment may be expensive, some organizations offer travel support to the patients.
- Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation
- Mesothelioma Cancer Centers
- Angel wheels to healing
Having Mesothelioma can sometimes take a considerable toll on patients requiring extra emotional support that the family cannot sufficiently provide. Luckily, many organizations offer emotional support to cater to patients’ emotional and mental needs.
The support for emotional turmoil includes:
- Support from friends and loved ones
- Support groups
- Palliative care
The Importance of Home Inspections
According to asbestos.com, significant asbestos exposure can increase Mesothelioma risk, with 2%-10% of all exposures often leading to the deadly disease. Therefore, it is vital to limit your exposure to asbestos at home or in the workplace.
Asbestos was a dominant component in most construction materials until the 1980s, with its use being unregulated because the dangers were unknown. As a result, rooftops, floors, ceilings, and dry walls constructed in the early 20th century contained asbestos.
Therefore, it is essential to conduct an asbestos inspection if you own a property built before 1975, when asbestos was still a dominant construction material. In addition, you should follow safety guidelines when working in an environment contaminated with asbestos dust.
A professional home inspector will help you determine if some materials within your property contain asbestos. If you discover traces of asbestos in your home, it shouldn’t be a cause for alarm, as undisturbed asbestos material is harmful. However, if you plan to renovate or sell your house, an asbestos professional can remove or seal the materials through painting.
Here’s why a home inspection is essential:
- To locate any asbestos and determine the amount present.
- To identify the type of asbestos present in your home.
Mesothelioma is a rare condition but comes with a fair share of challenges. First, the news of having cancer after the diagnosis may lead to stress and anxiety. Although there are various treatment options, most patients often fail to access the proper treatment owing to financial constraints.
Caregivers, therefore, come in handy to help patients overcome the mental and physical trauma of Mesothelioma. If you or your loved one has the condition, contact the nearest healthcare facility for treatment and support.
Interested in reading more about Mesothelioma? Read our latest article here.