What is Mesothelioma?Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the mesothelium. This is a thin lining (membrane) that covers the outer surface of many vital organs. Mesotheliomas are often linked to asbestos exposure, which is the primary cause of 70-80% of cases. Mesothelioma comes in several different forms, each of which requires a different approach to treatment. Epithelioid mesothelioma is the most common form which is generally slow-growing and easily treatable via chemotherapy. Other forms of mesothelioma may be resistant to chemotherapy and require alternative options of treatment. Approximately 75% to 80% of mesotheliomas begin in the lining surrounding the lungs. This type of mesothelioma is called pleural mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma makes up 10-20% of mesotheliomas. This type of mesothelioma begins in abdominal tissue called the peritoneum. Rare forms of mesothelioma can occur around the lining of the heart or genital areas.
Causes and risk factors of Mesothelioma:There are several common causes associated with Mesothelioma. Below are some of the most common risk factors:
- Asbestos exposure – Asbestos is a combination of minerals that was used in building, insulation, cement and many other products. Asbestos is a proven carcinogen which can cause Mesothelioma to occur when inhaled. For this reason, its use has been discontinued. When asbestos fibres are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen. Over time, this can cause cells to change and a malignant tumour to develop. For the above reasons, people should take caution when working around asbestos. Most people who work with asbestos are required to wear protective equipment and shower/change clothes after exposure takes place. The body’s lungs are able to filter out small amounts of asbestos. When combined with inhaling other harmful chemicals (eg. smoking), asbestos exposure becomes a lot more dangerous and can result in a significantly increased risk of mesothelioma.
- Radiation exposure – Exposure to radiation can also increase the risk of mesothelioma. This often happens due to previous radiation treatment for other forms of cancer.
- Genetics – There are rare cases of people inheriting mesothelioma. This makes up around 1% of all cases.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma:Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with mesothelioma. Upon noticing the symptoms, we recommend that you see a doctor as soon as possible. Early detection increases the effectiveness of treatment. General symptoms:
- Loss of appetite and weight – Sufferers of mesothelioma may experience an unexpected loss in weight. They may also not eat as much.
- Fatigue – Sufferers of mesothelioma may also feel extremely tired.
- High temperature – Mesothelioma can cause a fever which is often accompanied by night sweats.
- Shortness of breath – Mesothelioma can cause thickening of the lining around the lungs. This limits their ability to expand resulting in a shortness of breath.
- Pleural effusion – A pleural effusion is a build up of excess fluid between the lungs and the wall of the chest. It can cause dry coughing, pain, difficulty excercising or resting in certain positions and feelings of chest heaviness.
- Abdominal pain – You may experience pain due to pressure and build ups of fluid around the abdomen.
- Abdominal fluid buildup (ascites) – Ascites occurs when fluid builds up in the space surrounding abdominal organs. Symptoms of ascites include swelling, feelings of fullness, nausea and indigestion.
Treatment for Mesothelioma:There are several different treatments used for mesothelioma. The availability of these treatments depends on the stage, grade and location of a tumour. Each treatment has its own risks and side effects. for this reason, it is important to weigh up all options and discuss each treatment with a doctor. Common treatments for mesothelioma include:
Surgery:During surgery, a doctor will attempt to remove the tumour as well as surrounding tissue to prevent the tumour from growing back. If the tumour cannot be completely removed, surgery will be followed by an alternative treatment such as chemotherapy. This removes what remains from the surgery. For sufferers of mesothelioma in the lungs and chest (pleural mesothelioma), doctors will attempt to remove all traces of cancer from the lining of the lung. For further advanced tumours, doctors will recommend a more aggressive procedure which may involve removing the infected lung, removing part of the diaphragm or a portion of lining surrounding the heart. This procedure is called an extrapleural pneumonectomy. For sufferers of mesothelioma in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), doctors will usually recommend an omentectomy. This is the removal of lining around abdominal organs. Since doctors usually cannot remove all traces of cancer via this method, chemotherapy is usually recommended afterwards to remove what is left.
Systematic therapy:Systematic therapy is the use of drugs to target and destroy cancer cells. For treating mesothelioma, there are three main forms of systematic therapy used: Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is often used to destroy cancer cells or prevent them from growing. It is often given as a follow-up to surgery in order to treat the small traces of cancer that remain afterwards. It may also be used as an alternative to surgery. Chemotherapy is usually administered in a series of sessions. This gives the body a chance to recover following each session. The number of sessions and the type of drugs used will vary between patients. For peritoneal mesothelioma, chemotherapy is often given directly to the abdomen following surgery. Common side effects of chemotherapy include:
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Loss of hair
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased risk of infection