Mesothelioma is a deadly and aggressive cancer that forms in different parts of the body. Prognosis is generally poor but varies depending on the stage of the cancer. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, along with palliative care to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
Key Facts about Mesothelioma
- The primary cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos.
- Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath and dry cough.
- About 3,000 people are diagnosed annually.
- Oncologists, pulmonologists, surgeons, radiologists and palliative care specialists treat mesothelioma.
- Common treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy.
- The average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is 12 to 21 months.
What Is Mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that develops in the mesothelium, a layer of protective tissue that covers most internal organs. Mesothelioma progresses quickly and has no cure, but early treatment helps people live longer, fuller lives.
When you or someone you love is diagnosed with mesothelioma, developing a support system is important for everyone involved in the cancer journey.
The four types of mesothelioma form in different parts of the body.
Four Types of Mesothelioma:
- Pleural: Forms in the lining of the lungs.
- Peritoneal: Develops in the lining around the abdomen.
- Pericardial: Grows on the tissue around the heart.
- Testicular: Forms on the membrane that covers the testes.
The life expectancy for people with mesothelioma is about 12 months with treatment, which is why doctors say the prognosis is generally poor for most patients. About 12% of people with pleural mesothelioma and 65% with peritoneal mesothelioma live for five years or longer.
Coping with the mental and emotional impact of mesothelioma is tough on patients and their families. Counseling and support groups help people cope, and good sleep, diet and exercise may improve how they respond to stress. Prioritize getting the help you need to support your mental health, whether you’re a patient or caregiver.
“With this disease, finding a specialist is critical. You need someone who really understands it and knows how to treat it aggressively to get the best possible outcome.”
DR. JACQUES FONTAINE
Mesothelioma Thoracic Surgeon
What Causes Mesothelioma?
Asbestos causes mesothelioma. Repeated exposure to asbestos-contaminated products, such as talc and older construction materials, increases the risk of developing the disease.
Asbestos fibers get stuck in tissues that line and protect vital organs. Over time, the fibers cause irritation and DNA damage. This damage turns normal cells into cancer cells, which develop into mesothelioma tumors.
Occupational asbestos exposure is the No. 1 cause of mesothelioma. Construction workers, industrial workers, firefighters, military veterans and those in similar occupations may have been exposed to asbestos.
If you or a loved one were exposed to asbestos long ago, monitoring for signs of disease with X-rays and other tests can help catch cancer early. Tell your doctor about your exposure and ask how frequently you should be tested.03. SYMPTOMS
Symptoms of mesothelioma, such as fatigue, weight loss and fever, commonly occur in other cancers. Mesothelioma misdiagnosis is frequent because its symptoms can resemble other cancers and illnesses.
Respiratory symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, including coughing and chest pain, appear in people with lung cancer. Abdominal swelling and pain associated with peritoneal mesothelioma also appear in women with ovarian cancer.
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry cough
- Fluid around the lungs
- Respiratory complications
- Shortness of breath
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling (ascites)
- Loss of appetite
You should talk to your doctor if you have been exposed to asbestos in the past and are experiencing these symptoms. Early diagnosis of any disease often leads to a better prognosis.
Doctors use several procedures and tests to diagnose mesothelioma. However, only a biopsy can confirm a cancer diagnosis. Most people initially undergo a basic chest X-ray. If an abnormal growth or fluid around the lung is detected, doctors will recommend a more detailed imaging scan such as a PET scan, CT scan or MRI.
If cancer is suspected, doctors will recommend taking a sample of tissue, which is also known as a biopsy. Doctors use this tissue sample to definitively confirm the presence of mesothelioma cells.
After a mesothelioma diagnosis, your doctor will review your pathology report to understand the cancer’s cell type. There are three primary types of mesothelioma cells. Each type responds differently to treatment, and prognosis varies for each cell type.
Mesothelioma Cell Types:
- Epithelioid: Accounts for 70% of diagnoses and is the most responsive to treatment.
- Sarcomatoid: Found in 10% of diagnoses, has a poorer prognosis and shorter life expectancies.
- Biphasic: A combination of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. It accounts for 30% to 40% of cases.
Determining the stage of cancer helps doctors make treatment plans and predict patient prognoses. The stages of mesothelioma range from 1 to 4. They are based on tumor size and location.
If you are diagnosed with early-stage mesothelioma, you may be eligible for more treatment options than if you were diagnosed with late-stage mesothelioma. Median life expectancy ranges from 14.9 months to 22.2 months, depending on the stage.
The standard treatment for mesothelioma may include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation. Doctors develop individualized treatment plans based on cancer location, cell type and stage.
People diagnosed in the early stages benefit most from multimodal therapy using surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Surgical and palliative treatment options vary by cancer location. The sarcomatoid cell type limits treatment choices, while the epithelial cell type responds best to all forms of treatment.
“Supportive care medicine is a new specialized branch of medicine that reduces pain, increases appetite and boosts morale. Every mesothelioma patient should ask to be seen by this type of medical specialist, in addition to a thoracic surgeon and medical oncologist.”
DR. JACQUES FONTAINE
Mesothelioma Thoracic Surgeon
Types of Mesothelioma Treatment:
- Radiation therapy
- Tumor Treating Fields
Some patients may be eligible for mesothelioma clinical trials that test newer therapies. Though not every mesothelioma treatment is suitable for each patient, most patients benefit from palliative care to help manage symptoms.
Finding Mesothelioma Treatment
Finding a mesothelioma specialist at a top mesothelioma treatment center is the best way to benefit from the latest therapies and improve a mesothelioma prognosis. Mesothelioma specialists understand more about the disease and its treatment than general oncologists.
Top mesothelioma doctors have years of experience developing personalized treatment plans for patients. They have access to the latest treatments and medical technology at renowned cancer centers, and they work on multidisciplinary teams to provide a comprehensive treatment plan.
Although most doctors do not have experience diagnosing or treating mesothelioma, you can find mesothelioma specialists across the U.S.
Find a Specialist Near You
10 miles25 miles50 miles100 miles150 milesFIND A DOCTOR
“Not many doctors have knowledge treating mesothelioma beyond standard chemotherapy. Getting a second opinion is what everyone should do. That was my case. In 2014, doctors gave me months to a year. If not for a second opinion from doctors in Calgary who research the disease, I wouldn’t be alive today. – Kasie Coleman, Diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 2010”
Diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 2010
06. NEXT STEPS
What to Do Next
The impact of a rare cancer diagnosis such as mesothelioma can feel like too much to handle. It is completely normal to worry and feel confusion about how to move forward. Focus on getting excellent treatment and know there are steps you and your loved ones can take to empower your family with knowledge, resources and hope.
Steps to Consider
- If you are experiencing symptoms, tell your doctor and ask for a referral with a specialist.
- If you or your doctor suspects mesothelioma, seek an official diagnosis with a biopsy.
- If you have a mesothelioma diagnosis, find individualized treatment through a mesothelioma specialist. The Mesothelioma Center’s Doctor Match Program can help.
- Learn everything you can about your specific diagnosis, including the cell type and the most effective treatment options for your stage.
- Look into emotional support options such as support groups and counseling. The Mesothelioma Center hosts a monthly virtual mesothelioma support group where patients and caregivers connect with other families facing mesothelioma.
- If you’re a caregiver, develop a system of support to avoid taking on too much work, which can lead to caregiver burnout. Take time off, ask for help regularly and find coping mechanisms to process stress.
- Financial assistance options help families pay for treatment. Because mesothelioma is a preventable disease caused by negligent use of asbestos, justice is available and may provide compensation for medical expenses. Asbestos trust funds also provide compensation for costs related to mesothelioma.
- If you’re a veteran with mesothelioma, the VA offers specialized health care, disability compensation, caregiver benefits and more.
- People diagnosed with late-stage mesothelioma may explore palliative care to control symptoms and overcome cancer-related setbacks.
The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com provides exclusive services to help mesothelioma patients and their loved ones through every step of their journey. We connect patients with specialists, help families access financial assistance and connect them to top mesothelioma lawyers for compensation. We provide support groups, assistance applying for VA benefits, help with booking medical appointments and more.
All our concierge services are free to anyone affected by mesothelioma. These resources help families cope with the impact of mesothelioma and empower them to navigate the challenges. Mesothelioma is a serious disease, but finding the right doctor and receiving top-notch treatment offers hope to live longer and spend more precious time with loved ones.
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