Doctors divide mesothelioma in several ways based upon what part of the mesothelioma is infected. Pleural mesothelioma usually affects the lining tissue surrounding the lungs (pneumomediastinum) or the peritoneum. This type is generally called pleural mesothelioma, which can be asymptomatic or symptomatic. Peritoneal mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the lining tissue of the abdominal cavity. This is the only type of mesothelioma that is routinely tested for symptoms.
Like all other cancers, the risk factors for mesothelioma are both hereditary and environmental. Some people are more at risk than others. For instance, individuals who have a family history of mesothelioma are at an increased risk, although there is little evidence to prove this hypothesis. Mesothelioma can be caused by exposure to asbestos, which was commonly used in many construction jobs prior to 1970. Many people who worked with asbestos are still experiencing symptoms today.
As with any cancer, the earlier the treatment the better, so the earlier you can seek treatment the better. In most cases, mesothelioma can be treated with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, but it’s important to understand these treatments have different effects on different people. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill malignant cells and shrink tumors; radiation uses high-energy rays to damage tumors in general and sometimes also kills individual cells; and surgery uses invasive methods to remove tumors. The survival rate for most individuals is quite good, especially for those whose symptoms last for less than a year.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma often does not produce any symptoms, so the cause of the disease often remains unknown. Even if symptoms do occur and prove to be malignant, the disease may be so far progressed that treatment will not improve the patient’s quality of life. Because of this, it’s extremely important that anyone who has been exposed to asbestos, no matter how much or how little they were exposed, get a complete physical exam as soon as possible. A doctor or nurse will be able to do this by looking into the area where the mesothelioma is located and examining the tissue under a microscope. In some cases, this exam will be combined with computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to make a more complete picture of the mesothelioma and to determine whether the tissue contains cancerous cells.
Once a diagnosis has been made, patients can be diagnosed with either pleural mesothelioma or peritoneal mesothelioma depending on how much of the mesothelioma was discovered and the extent of the cancer in the affected organ. The prognosis for peritoneal mesothelioma varies significantly, as does the outlook for survival, but both outlooks are much better than for pleural mesothelioma and are improving all the time. According to the American Cancer Society, “A five-year survival rate following cancer surgery for those with this type of mesothelioma is approximately 70 percent.” For those with this type of cancer, the outlook for a full recovery is good. However, the standard prognosis for those with pleural mesothelioma is “very poor” because of the extreme damage and illness the disease causes.
Those who have been exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma should definitely contact their doctor immediately to discuss the condition. The sooner the cancer is detected, the better the chances of a full recovery. If someone you know has developed mesothelioma, you may want to have them checked out as soon as possible to ensure that they receive the best care possible.