Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma affects the lung lining, abdomen, and heart. The disease can take decades to present itself after exposure to the mineral. For years, asbestos was a common material in construction and insulation.
Because symptoms take so long to appear, mesothelioma may be in advanced stages by the time it is diagnosed. Early detection and diagnoses are imperative if the disease is going to be successfully treated.
Why Early Detection Matters
Mesothelioma is aggressive and can rapidly spread to other body parts. The odds of survival increase with early detection since it can be caught before spreading to other parts of the body, thus limiting the amount of damage that occurs in surrounding organs and tissues. As is the case with most cancers, the earlier it is detected, the more treatment options there are available.
Often mesothelioma is not caught early because the symptoms can lead to misdiagnosis. The symptoms are similar to other lung issues and can begin gradually, only to worsen with time. The following are some of the symptoms of mesothelioma:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Weight Loss
Because the symptoms do not always point directly to mesothelioma, people often ignore them and only seek medical help when the cancer has advanced. Mesothelioma is not always the first thought when faced with the above symptoms since it can take decades following exposure to the mineral before the disease is detectable.
Often individuals who were exposed decades earlier do not even realize they are at risk since the dots had yet to be connected to the asbestos building and manufacturing materials and the associated health threat. Those who are aware of previous exposure should get regular screenings and checkups in order to take measures to stop the disease before it causes problems too complex to treat.
Why a Diagnosis is Critical
A diagnosis provides the individual with information about the type of cancer they have and what stage it is in. This information allows them to choose a suitable treatment option that will provide the best possible outcome.
Several diagnostic tests are used in combination to diagnose mesothelioma. The commonly used tests are as follows:
- CT scans
- MRI scans
The most precise way to diagnose mesothelioma is by biopsying a tissue sample. Doctors can examine the cells and define whether they are cancerous or not.
Early diagnosis gives the patient the best chance for the broadest treatment options. Mesothelioma is primarily treated through the following methods.
Surgery for Mesothelioma
The type of surgery suggested for mesothelioma will depend on the stage of cancer, where the tumor is located, and the general health of the individual suffering from the disease. Listed here are a few of the surgical options that are commonly used to treat mesothelioma:
- Pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) is a surgery that involves removing the pleura, the lung’s lining, as well as any tumors that can be seen. This type of surgery is best applied to mesothelioma caught in the earlier stages and has not spread to other body parts.
- Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) surgery removes the affected lung, the lung lining, the pleura, and nearby tissues also affected by cancer. This treatment is usually a good option for those with more advanced mesothelioma spread from the lungs to other body parts.
- Cytoreductive surgery with heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) is another surgical option used for peritoneal mesothelioma, meaning the lining of the abdomen has been affected by the disease. This surgery removes visible tumors, followed by a heated chemotherapy treatment applied straight to the abdominal area.
Surgery for mesothelioma can be challenging and is not without risks. Some of the most common problems with these surgeries are as follows:
- Risk of bleeding
- Blood clots
- Damage to organs
- Tissue damage
Depending on the invasiveness of the surgery, recovery can be lengthy and patients may require rehabilitation to regain their strength and ability to function properly. A mesothelioma specialist will walk you through the pros and cons of available treatments so you can make informed decisions about your care with your medical team.
Chemotherapy to Treat Mesothelioma
Chemotherapy uses chemicals administered orally or intravenously to kill cancer cells. Usually, these drugs will be distributed in cycles followed by rest and recovery periods. Often, chemotherapy is used to shrink tumors before surgery to make them easier to remove. Or to kill any remaining cancer cells following surgery.
The following drugs are often used in chemotherapy for mesothelioma treatments:
Radiation Therapy Used for Treating Mesothelioma
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. Often it is introduced to the body externally through a machine, but at times it is used internally by inducting a radioactive material into the body close to the cancer. Radiation therapy is often a post-surgical follow-up treatment used to eradicate any cancer cells after the surgical procedure.
Sometimes, radiation and chemotherapy are used in congress with one another to eliminate cancer cells. Each treatment comes with side effects such as the following:
- Hair loss
- Increased risk of infection
- Skin Changes
The patient’s medical team can help them reduce the impact of those and mitigate the risks vs. the rewards.
Early Diagnosis Can Prevent the Spread of Mesothelioma
The earlier the disease is detected, the sooner a practical course of treatment can begin. The sooner surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can be used. The more effective treatments have the potential to be. Surgery can remove the cancerous tissue, and a one-two punch between chemotherapy and radiation therapy can kill the remaining cells. In turn, stopping the cancer from spreading further within the body.
Even when cancer has progressed, the earlier it is detected, the more symptoms can be alleviated, and the more improved the quality of life may be. When mesothelioma is detected later, surgery is often not an available option. When this is the case, there are palliative care options that can help manage symptoms.