Malignant mesothelioma is a rare and deadly form of cancer. This cancer begins when cancer cells develop in the mesothelium, a protective lining of tissue that surrounds many of the vital organs in the thoracic and abdominal cavities. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type, affecting the pleura, which is the protective layer of tissue around the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma is less common, affecting the peritoneum, the protective lining of the abdominal organs and abdominal cavity.
Causes of Mesothelioma
One of the most unfortunate aspects of mesothelioma is that it is a preventable form of cancer. Human activity created the rise in incidents of the disease. The leading cause of this form of cancer is exposure to asbestos. Nearly all new cases of mesothelioma can be directly linked to the inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers. This relationship has been recognized by medical science. Only in extremely rare instances has no link to asbestos been found in patients with mesothelioma. Rare causes may be caused by radiation exposure.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral mined from the earth. It has been identified for several centuries, but its commercial potential was not considered until the late 1800s. Even so, mining in earnest did not begin until the early 20th century.
Asbestos is found in nature as a type of mineral fiber. Its primary commercial properties include resistance to heat and electricity. Therefore, it was found to be a cheap and abundant form of insulation. Through the 1940s, thousands upon thousands of U.S. workers were exposed to asbestos, beginning at the mines. It was then widely used in shipyards, construction sites, foundries and any other place where insulation from heat was required. In addition, asbestos was used as a component of many building materials, including tiles, concrete and adhesives.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please contact one of our Arizona mesothelioma lawyers today for a free consultation.
Asbestos, when broken, the fibers are released into the air as a dust. When inhaled, the fibers are too large to be processed and eliminated by the body. The fibers become lodged in the lungs, and they irritate the surrounding tissue, causing many health problems.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
One of the reasons why mesothelioma is so deadly is because symptoms usually do not begin until 20 to 50 years after a person is exposed to asbestos. The specific symptoms depend on the type of mesothelioma. One type of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma, usually begins with the patient experiencing shortness of breath or chest pain. Other symptoms include the following:
- Coughing or coughing up blood
- Fluid in the lungs
- Wheezing and difficulty breathing
The other type, peritoneal mesothelioma, usually begins with the symptoms of weight loss and severe muscle loss. Other symptoms include the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Bowel obstruction
- Reduced blood clotting
- Buildup of fluid in the abdomen
- Lump in the abdomen
No matter the type, mesothelioma may present other symptoms when it reaches the later stages of the disease and spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms of late-stage mesothelioma are as follows:
- Blood clots and pulmonary embolism
- Low blood sugar
- Pleural effusion
Diagnosis of Mesothelioma
Diagnosis of mesothelioma usually takes place after symptoms are experienced, but it is often misdiagnosed because the symptoms are common to many other medical conditions and diseases. In such cases, further tests are often not conducted until the symptoms fail to disappear or worsen.
The diagnosis of mesothelioma begins with the doctor reviewing the medical and work history of the patient. Any known history of exposure to asbestos will cause a suspicion of mesothelioma and can speed the diagnosis. After the historical review, a standard physical examination takes place. This may include chest X-rays and lung tests. If anything is found by these tests, a CT scan or MRI may be ordered. Other diagnostic methods may follow if the doctor cannot determine a specific cause of the symptoms. Such methods may include one or more of the following:
- Cytopathology – If fluid is present in the lungs, a sample may be extracted for analysis.
- Thoracoscopy/Thoracentesis – If symptoms are in the lungs, the doctor may visually inspect the thoracic cavity with a small camera device or a lighted tube. This is usually accomplished with through an incision in the chest between the ribs. If fluid is found, it can be drained to provide relief of symptoms and extracted for analysis.
- Peritoneoscopy/Paracentesis – in peritoneal mesothelioma, a procedure similar to thoracoscopy may be performed. The only difference is that peritoneoscopy is a visual inspection of the abdominal cavity. Both types of tests are performed with local anaesthesia.
- Biopsy – This diagnostic test is the only sure way to identify mesothelioma with nearly 100 percent accuracy. In a biopsy, the doctor removes a small sample of tissue for examination. A pathologist conducts the examination by viewing the tissue under a microscope.
- Immunohistochemistry – Once mesothelioma is detected, additional diagnostic tests must be performed to determine if the cancer is malignant, benign or some other neoplastic mimic. A battery of blood and chemical tests is ordered because no single test is reliable enough as a strict determinate.
Several treatment options are available that have proven effect in prolonging the life of some patients with mesothelioma. Out of the five available methods of treatment, three are traditional treatments and two are newer treatments that are still being tested.
Surgery is the most common treatment for mesothelioma when caught early enough. Even though the visible tumor and surrounding tissue is removed, cancerous cells are usually left behind. For this reason, surgery is often combined with one or more of the other available treatments that can kill unseen cancerous cells.
The most common form of surgery for pleural mesothelioma is a pleurectomy or decortication. In this type of surgery, the lining of the chest is removed. Not all of the cancerous cells are extracted by the surgery, but it does greatly reduce symptoms, such as pain and fluid accumulation.
Another form of surgery for pleural mesothelioma is extrapleural pneumonectomy. This is a very difficult type of surgery involving the removal of the pleura and parts of the diaphragm, pericardium and lung. This surgery can only be performed on patients who are otherwise in good health.
Radiation therapy involves the use of x-rays targeted at the body to kill cancerous cells. The most common type of radiation therapy for mesothelioma patients is external beam radiation therapy. An external x-ray machine, much like those used for diagnostic purposes, delivers a dose of radiation from outside the body. The radiation, however, passes through the body and may affect healthy tissue as well as cancerous tissue, causing a number of side effects.
Another form of radiation therapy used to treat mesothelioma is called brachytherapy. This involves placing radioactive matter directly into the chest or the abdomen in the region of the cancer.
Chemotherapy uses one or more drugs to kill the cells affected by mesothelioma. The drugs are usually taken in pill or capsule form, but they can also be injected intravenously or muscularly. In some cases, the drugs are injected directly into the chest or abdomen where the cancer resides. Chemotherapy drugs are systemic, so they travel through the body and destroy healthy cells as well as cancerous cells. This treatment is known to cause several side effects, including hair loss, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.
Immunotherapy, also known as biotherapy, is an experimental treatment that attempts to get the body’s own immune system to kill and fight off cancerous cells. Two different types of immunotherapy can be used. The first type, active immunotherapy, uses drugs to help stimulate the immune system. Passive immunotherapy involves the use of synthetic proteins that complement the natural immune system.
Photodynamic therapy is another experimental treatment that uses a combination of photosensitive drugs and specific wavelengths of light. After the drugs are administered, they are activated with the light only in the cancerous areas. Dead tissue is then removed a few days later via a minor surgical procedure.
A specific prognosis for mesothelioma patients is dependent on several factors. A typical life expectancy following a diagnosis of mesothelioma is in the range of eight to fourteen months. The number of patients who survive for at least one year is now about 40 percent. The five-year survival rate is around 10 percent.
It is imperative that you contact an experienced Arizona mesothelioma attorney to assess your situation and prospective claim for compensation, and we encourage you to contact the offices of Goldberg & Osborne today. Simply call 1-800-THE-EAGLE (1-800-843-3245) or fill out our online case form for your free, no obligation evaluation. We work at no cost until we win your case!