What Are The Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Cancer is something a person can be diagnosed with during any stage of life. But there are certain ones that are more likely to show up as you grow older. One of these cancers is mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the protective lining of major organs. 

You’ve probably heard about the dangers of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is largely caused by one specific environmental factor, and it’s commonly found in certain workplaces. Understanding how this occupational hazard is linked to mesothelioma is the key to preventing a diagnosis and lowering your risk.

What Is Mesothelioma?

While many cancers affect parts of the body you’re well aware of, mesothelioma targets something most people might not think about.

Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor that affects the mesothelium. This body part is a tissue lining that covers your organs such as the lungs, abdominal organs and heart. The mesothelium has different names depending on which body part this tissue covers. It’s possible for these cancerous cells to spread to other parts of the body.

There are three types of mesothelioma:

Pleural Mesothelioma
This cancer affects the pleura, which is a protective lining for the lung. It’s the most common form of mesothelioma and accounts for around 75 percent of diagnosed cases.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma
About 25 percent of cases affect the peritoneal, which is the lining that protects the abdominal captivity. This includes organs such as the stomach, intestines, kidney and liver.

Pericardial Mesothelioma
This is the rarest form of mesothelioma; only about one percent of patients are diagnosed with. It affects the heart’s protective lining, which is called the pericardial, and is often not caught until after a person dies.

The largest contributing factor linked to causing mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. This can happen when someone inhales or swallows microscopic airborne asbestos fibres that get lodged into their mesothelium. This damages the protective lining of the organs, allowing cancerous tumors to form and cause mesothelioma.

Certain industries make workers more vulnerable to inhaling asbestos. Construction sites, shipyards, cement plants and the automotive industry are some examples. Although anyone with exposure to asbestos is at risk of developing mesothelioma, men are more likely to be diagnosed. It’s important to learn everything you can about your work environment to understand whether asbestos exposure is a possibility.

Unlike some cancers that can be caught in earlier stages, mesothelioma is something doctors won’t usually diagnose until it’s more progressed. That’s because symptoms for this cancer are not obvious right away.

Early Signs And Symptoms Of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma can be difficult to detect on your own. This type of cancer often doesn’t show symptoms when it first forms. And that means you could live with mesothelioma for years without even realizing it.

Since the symptoms for mesothelioma don’t usually appear in early stages, this cancer is often diagnosed anywhere between 20 and 60 years after exposure to asbestos. The symptoms are usually ignored or not considered serious because they’re typically related to other problems. Your likelihood of being affected by it depends on the severity, length and frequency of the exposure.

Here are symptoms for pleural mesothelioma, the most common form of this cancer.

  • Chest or lower back pain
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Fever
  • Swollen face and arms

Symptoms associated with peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma are more concerning. Stomach pain, abdominal swelling, nausea and constipation are common symptoms for peritoneal patients. For those with pericardial mesothelioma, symptoms include chest pain, irregular heart rhythm or murmurs and shortness of breath.

If you’re regularly exposed to asbestos or have been in the past, you should see a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Diagnosis And Treatment For Mesothelioma

Doctors will perform a series of blood, fluid and tissue tests to determine whether a patient has mesothelioma. The chest cavity, abdomen and membrane around the heart will be explored depending on the symptoms. A biopsy or image test might also be done if mesothelioma cells aren’t found in the fluid results. 

After getting tested, a patient will be given a stage of mesothelioma based on the tumor size and its location.

Stage 1: The cancer is localized and survival rate is about 22 months.
Stage 2: Tumors are spreading to nearby areas and the life expectancy lowers to 20 months.
Stage 3: Cancer has spread to other areas such as the lymph nodes, esophagus, chest wall, etc.
Stage 4: The tumor has spread further to distant organs and life expectancy drops to just 15 months.

Those diagnosed with the earlier stages of mesothelioma have some options for treatment. It usually involves a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Patients who can get the cancer completely removed from surgery have a better prognosis than those who can’t get it completely removed.

It’s harder to perform curative treatments for mesothelioma in a late-stage diagnosis. In that case, patients usually enter palliative therapy to treat the symptoms and improve quality of life.

Living With Mesothelioma

Preventing mesothelioma is difficult. The best way to know if you’re at risk for mesothelioma is to understand how it’s caused. You should know whether you’re surrounded by the asbestos that could lead to this deadly condition later in life. And you can also look into taking steps to reduce your exposure to these chemicals.

If you or someone in your family is regularly exposed to asbestos at work or elsewhere, talk to your doctor. Taking action on possible symptoms earlier on will greater the chances of extending your life with surgery. When you notice any changes to your health, it’s a good idea to see your doctor as soon as possible. 

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