Construction workers, firefighters, factory workers, and chemical refining workers are at high risk of pleural mesothelioma cancer. In most recorded cases, this type of cancer is caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos. While asbestos usage has been limited in recent years, pleural mesothelioma still can be found on almost 3000 patients each year. Here’s everything you need to know about this asbestos cancer.
What is Pleural Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is commonly found in the thin membrane of human internal organs. Therefore, the cancer cell found in this membrane is called mesothelioma. In most cases, mesothelioma cancer forms in a thin lung membrane called the pleura.
The pleura consists of two layers, the outer and the inner layer. The outer pleural lining covers the chest cavity under the ribs. Whereas, the inner pleural lining covers the surface of your lungs. When a tumor occurs, it can expand further on every pleural layer.
In the US, around 3000 patients are diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma every year. While in the UK, around 2600 patients are diagnosed each year. Patients usually consist of men at the age of 60 to 80. In most cases, pleural mesothelioma cancer patients have worked in asbestos-related industries decades prior to the diagnosis. Therefore, it can be concluded that most pleural mesothelioma cases occur due to prolonged asbestos exposure.
How can asbestos cause pleural mesothelioma cancer?
To answer this question, it is essential to understand what asbestos is. Asbestos is a type of mineral fiber. Its fire and chemical-resistant properties make asbestos widely used in various industries such as automotive and housing. Unfortunately, asbestos could become dangerous if airborne. Airborne asbestos is usually broken down into tiny particles. It commonly occurs in air, water, and soil.
Small exposure to asbestos is not harmful to your health. However, prolonged exposure to this substance will cause certain health problems, including malignant pleural mesothelioma. Cancer will form after you breathe in the substance. After the asbestos settles in your lung, it will cause inflammation and scarring. Then, asbestos could lead to cell changes and cancer.
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma cancer
Pleural mesothelioma cancer can take 30 to 50 years to develop. This long latency period caused this rare cancer to be difficult to diagnose. Initial symptoms after the asbestos exposure are usually light and can be easily ignored. However, hard symptoms occur decades after the exposure. Common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma cancer are:
- Pain in the chest area
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue and extreme tiredness
- High body temperature and sweating that usually occurs at night
- Cough and hoarseness
- Loss of appetite, leading to unexplained weight loss
- Swollen fingertips
Be aware that proper pleural mesothelioma diagnosis can only be performed by medical professionals. So, don’t try to self-diagnose after some of those symptoms appear.
Pleural mesothelioma diagnosis
When heavy symptoms start to occur, it is advised to do a medical checkup immediately. During the checkup, the doctor may evaluate the symptoms of the disease. Further diagnosis might require a chest X-ray to detect any tumor or fluid buildup on the lung. To confirm the diagnosis, specialists are required to use advanced imaging scans and tissue biopsies.
Furthermore, tissue biopsies might reveal the type of cell and the cancer stage. This pleural mesothelioma diagnosis stage is essential to determine the best treatment for your cancer.
Pleural mesothelioma stages
Staging is essential for your doctor to determine the best treatment for your cancer. Staging for pleural mesothelioma cancer is based on the TNM staging system created by The International Mesothelioma Interest Group. There are four stages in pleural mesothelioma. Each of them shows different progressions of cancer and life expectancy of the patients.
- Stage 1: At this early stage, tumors haven’t developed further as they remain localized in the pleural lining of the lung. The life expectancy for patients is 22.2 months.
- Stage 2: At this stage, the cancer cell starts to invade the nearby lymph nodes, making it difficult for immune cells to repel the cancer spread. The pleural mesothelioma life expectancy is 20 months.
- Stage 3: At this later stage, cancer has spread to the nearby tissue and further to distant lymph nodes. The patient’s life expectancy is around 18 months.
- Stage 4: At this critical stage, cancer has spread into distant organs, affecting organs, such as stomach linings and the heart. The life expectancy for this stage is 14.9 months.
Be aware that the prognosis for pleural mesothelioma differs for each patient due to several factors. Some factors that affect your prognosis include your gender, stage, age, cell type, activity level, and pleural fluids.
Treatment for pleural mesothelioma cancer
In general, treatments for pleural mesothelioma cancer include radiation therapy, surgery, and chemotherapy. Each of those treatments offers different results and success rates. So, make sure that you have researched all of the available treatment options to determine which one’s the best for you.
Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatments for pleural mesothelioma cancer. This treatment involves circulating one or more drugs into your body to kill the cancer cell. Despite being the most common, the overall success rate is low.
To increase the success rate, a new method is developed. This new chemotherapy method uses heated chemotherapy drugs to be applied directly into the pleural cavity after surgery. This new method offers a better survival rate of 54.7%.
Surgery is performed to relieve symptoms, diagnose cancer, and remove the tumor. Diagnostic surgery usually involves non-invasive surgery such as thoracoscopy. Patients who suffered from the later stage of pleural mesothelioma cancer benefit from the surgery to relieve symptoms. Like diagnostic surgery, this type of surgery also involves non-invasive surgery.
Unlike later-stage patients, early-stage patients will be greatly benefited from the removal surgery. The goal of this type of surgery is to entirely remove any cancer cells and to prevent them from recurring.
- Radiation therapy
The goal of radiation treatment is to destroy pleural mesothelioma cancer and decrease the size of the tumor. The most common radiation treatment for pleural mesothelioma cancer is external beam radiation. With this treatment, recurring cancer after surgery can be suppressed. On top of that, each session of this treatment is fast and painless. Despite that, radiation therapy cannot cure cancer.
- Alternative treatments
Alternative treatments for pleural mesothelioma cancer include some novel therapies, such as immunotherapy, gene therapy, and photodynamic therapy. As you might be aware, these therapies are currently under development. The goal of these therapies is to reduce the side effect while increasing the effectiveness of the treatment.
As a pleural mesothelioma cancer patient, you might be able to receive such therapy via pleural mesothelioma clinical trial. However, not all patients are eligible to receive the therapy.
To sum up, pleural mesothelioma cancer mostly occurs due to prolonged exposure to airborne asbestos particles. The inhaled asbestos particle will settle in your lung, causing cell change and tumor. You might feel light symptoms after the initial exposure. However, the symptoms will become more fatal on the view decades later.
A pleural mesothelioma cancer diagnosis should be performed by a medical professional. The diagnosis process will determine the stage of your cancer which will later determine the treatment. Cancer treatments are various with different success rates and side effects.
Lastly, deciding your treatment goal could help you determine which treatment is best for you. In addition to that, you should also consult with your doctor for the possibility of alternative treatments.
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