Mesothelioma is a deadly cancer commonly caused by exposure to asbestos. When the asbestos fibers are inhaled or swallowed they penetrate into the lungs and other areas of the body. Mesothelioma develops most commonly in the protective lining of the lungs, abdomen, and cavity surrounding the heart.
Patients with the highest risk of mesothelioma are those in occupations that expose them to asbestos on a daily basis. Employees that mine asbestos or work in manufacturing plants that produce building materials (insulation, roofing, etc.) can be regularly exposed to the hazardous fibers. Building contractors, construction and demolition laborers, drywallers and carpenters can be exposed to asbestos during the construction process.
Other industries with known high levels of exposure to asbestos are auto repair shops (brakes and clutches), sand or abrasive manufacturing factories, oil refineries, steel mills and shipyards, power plants, painting and plumbing. United States Navy veterans, merchant marines, and railroad workers are known to be at higher risk of mesothelioma.
Symptoms of mesothelioma are commonly associated with every day ailments and the disease may go undetected for many years after the asbestos exposure. In fact, mesothelioma may not become symptomatic for 20 to 50 years. A persistent cough, shortness of breath and chest pains are frequent symptoms associated with mesothelioma. Advanced symptoms are similar to those related to the progressive stages of cancer: weight loss, night sweats, loss of appetite.
When the symptoms are significant enough for a patient to seek professional medical attention, the mesothelioma may have already developed into the late stages. A physician will send an individual for a series of medical tests in order to diagnose mesothelioma. The doctor usually orders a blood test to check blood levels for chemical changes that detect a tumor. Additional tests can be ordered to determine the type and stage of mesothelioma: CT/CAT scan is a two dimensional view of an x-ray, MRI is a view of the tumor in contrast to normal tissue, PET scan captures images of biological changes, and pleuroscopy is an insertion of a video camera into the chest cavity.
There are three types of mesothelioma. The most common, pleural mesothelioma, involves the membrane or lining that surrounds the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma develops as a tumor in the abdomen. Pericardial mesothelioma involves fluid build-up between the tissues of the heart and its lining.
Since mesothelioma is cancer, it is also diagnosed in the stage of progression of the disease. There are four stages beginning with stage I, the cancer is still localized where it originated, through stage IV, the cancer has spread to distant organs. Depending on the stage of the mesothelioma at time of diagnosis, treatments will vary.
Available treatment options for mesothelioma are continually expanding. Traditional treatments include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Recent developments in treating mesothelioma include photodynamic therapy, immunotherapy and gene therapy. Alternative treatments for mesothelioma include acupuncture, massage, meditation & aromatherapy.