If you have a history of asbestos exposure and you suspect you may have mesothelioma, it’s important to consult a mesothelioma doctor immediately, as this rare disease can only be diagnosed accurately by a specialist.
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Symptoms of mesothelioma often range from slight chest pain to feeling like you can’t breathe or swallow. Many patients often mistake their mesothelioma symptoms for other conditions like bronchitis, pneumonia or gastrointestinal problems.
The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos—a natural mineral mined from the ground. Asbestos is composed of tiny, tinsel-like fibers that make the material extremely durable yet pliable. Asbestos fibers are like fine, indestructible shards that, when formed together, create a product that can withstand any level of heat, chemical or water exposure.
Manufacturers were advised of the dangers that asbestos-exposure had on workers, including its link to cancer. However, companies continued to mine, process and distribute asbestos regardless.
From the 1920s until the late 1980s, asbestos was widely used as a natural insulating and fire-resistant industrial material in a range of construction and manufacturing capacities. By as early as the 1930s, claims of asbestos-related health risks had come to the surface.
Workers using asbestos are put at great risk of ingesting or inhaling the fibers. When disturbed, asbestos releases its fine particles into the air unseen. The fibers settle on every nearby surface from clothing and machinery to food and water sources.
Because asbestos fibers are microscopic, workers don’t know when they’re released into the air, so anyone nearby can unknowingly breathe them in or ingest them into their digestive tract.
How Asbestos Exposure Leads to Mesothelioma
Fibers can be breathed in through the nose or mouth. Once inhaled, asbestos makes its way down the trachea and into the lungs, or down the esophagus and into the stomach.
These indestructible slivers eventually settle themselves deep into the tissue linings that surround three main parts:
Over time, the fibers cause constant and repetitive irritation to the lung, heart or abdominal tissues. With enough irritation, scarring results. In some cases, this scarring may trigger tissue cells to mutate and turn into mesothelioma cancer cells. By nature, cancer cells grow and divide to form tumors (clumps of cancerous tissue). They can quickly and eventually overtake healthy cells.
Cancer’s destructive nature results in damage to the affected organs, which prevents them from functioning properly. When mesothelioma continues to spread unchecked, it will become fatal.
However, mesothelioma is the most difficult to treat because of its aggressive nature. Mesothelioma specialists use personalized treatment strategies to target, remove or shrink mesothelioma tumors with the goal of controlling its spread and extending life.
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What Are the Different Mesothelioma Types?
Mesothelioma is a cancer that forms in the mesothelium—the protective lining that covers organs in the chest and abdomen. Because it affects different areas of the body, mesothelioma is described as having different locations, or types.
Here are the different ways doctors classify mesothelioma:
Location: Lungs (pleural), abdomen (peritoneal) or heart (pericardial)
Cell type: Epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic (mixture of both)
Stage: Stages I to IV — an official staging system for pleural mesothelioma only
Localized vs. Metastatic: Localized mesothelioma remains contained to the original site, while metastatic mesothelioma has spread to distant sites throughout the body, such as the lymph nodes (the body’s filtration system)
An accurate mesothelioma diagnosis can only be given by a specialist. An example of a complete mesothelioma diagnosis could be stage 2 epithelioid pleural mesothelioma, meaning that it’s the epithelioid cell type that has formed in the pleura (lung lining) and is relatively contained to the chest cavity.
An estimated 2 out of every 3 mesothelioma cases are pleural, with the remaining cases being peritoneal. Pericardial mesothelioma is extremely rare, accounting for less than 1% of all mesothelioma cases.
As for cell types, epithelioid is the most common. It’s also deemed the easiest to treat compared to sarcomatoid cell type, which is rare but the most aggressive.
When a mesothelioma tumor contains both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells, it’s called biphasic or mixed. The ratio between epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells in a tumor determines how quickly it spreads.
What Are Common Mesothelioma Symptoms?
Anyone with a history of asbestos exposure should be aware of the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma. It’s important to know that you could have been exposed to asbestos decades ago and only just develop symptoms now. The disease can lie dormant for 10-50 years before forming, spreading and producing symptoms.
Mesothelioma symptoms vary by disease location and stage. As with most conditions, mesothelioma symptoms also vary for each person based on factors like age, sex and overall health level.
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
Pleural mesothelioma affects the protective lining that covers the chest cavity and lungs. Because of where the disease forms, the main symptoms of pleural mesothelioma mostly affect the respiratory system. As mesothelioma tumors grow within the lung linings, the tissue expands and causes pressure and swelling.
Here are some of the symptoms that result from pleural mesothelioma:
Tightness in the chest
Shortness of breath
A dry cough
Fluid buildup in the chest
Constriction of the throat and upper chest
In the initial stages of pleural mesothelioma, patients may experience flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever and body aches and pains.
Vague mesothelioma signs can be easily overlooked or ignored. These signs, combined with respiratory symptoms can result in misdiagnoses like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), bronchitis or even the common cold.
As pleural mesothelioma progresses into stages 3 or 4, symptoms become much more severe and difficult to ignore. Many people report feeling chronic chest pain, persistent and painful coughing and well as possibly coughing up blood.
If you have a history of asbestos exposure and you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, make an appointment with a mesothelioma specialist today.
Access Asbestos Trust Funds
Compensation for treatment, loss of income and other damages is available through Asbestos Trust Funds. Patients with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses may qualify.
Find Out If You Qualify
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms
When mesothelioma forms in the abdominal lining (peritoneum), it causes a variety of stomach and digestion symptoms.
Mesothelioma tumors in the peritoneum cause pressure and swelling in the abdomen, which lead to many of the following peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms and signs:
Fluid buildup in the abdomen
Bloating and swelling
Constipation and diarrhea
Nausea and vomiting
Peritoneal mesothelioma also causes symptoms that are similar to pleural mesothelioma symptoms. These include chronic fatigue, night sweats and fever.
There is no official staging system for peritoneal mesothelioma like there is with pleural, so the timeline of symptoms varies from patient to patient.
Changes in bowel habits are common in peritoneal mesothelioma patients. As such, it’s easy to confuse it with digestive issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms and have a history of asbestos exposure, contact a mesothelioma specialist today.
Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms
In less than 1% of cases, mesothelioma forms in the heart lining (pericardium). Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms mimic pleural mesothelioma symptoms due to the heart’s proximity to the lungs.
Pericardial tumors cause swelling and pressure in the heart, which creates extremely dangerous complications. Because pericardial mesothelioma is so rare, there aren’t a set of common or progressive signs like there are the other two types.
However, here are some of the possible symptoms you may develop with pericardial mesothelioma:
Shortness of breath when lying down
Heart palpitations (arrhythmia)
As tumors develop in the heart lining, the pericardial lining starts to thicken. Pericardial thickening causes further inflammation and strain, resulting in symptoms like irregular heartbeat and murmurs. As with the other forms of mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma also causes fatigue, fever and night sweats.
Doctors can perform X-rays and imaging scans to identify possible pericardial tumors that may be causing heart problems.
If you are experiencing any of these pericardial mesothelioma symptoms and you have a history of asbestos exposure, contact a mesothelioma specialist today.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Mesothelioma?
Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is essential to receiving the right type of treatment that can possibly extend life.
Only a mesothelioma specialist can conclusively diagnose mesothelioma by its location, cell type and stage. Doctors diagnose mesothelioma by following a specific set of diagnostic steps.
Doctors take the following steps to diagnose mesothelioma:
Review Symptoms and History: Patients who exhibit symptoms of mesothelioma will undergo a physical examination. Doctors will look at signs and symptoms and ask about their duration. During the exam, patients should discuss any history of asbestos exposure to determine risk factors for mesothelioma.
Imaging Scans: If patients display signs and symptoms that indicate mesothelioma, doctors will then order imaging scans. X-rays, CT scans and MRIs allow doctors to inside the patient and look for masses of tissue resembling tumors.
Biopsy: If imaging scans reveal tumor masses, then doctors will order a biopsy. Tissue samples removed during a biopsy get examined under a microscope by a pathologist—a doctor who looks for the presence of mesothelioma cancer cells. A biopsy can conclusively tell doctors whether a patient has mesothelioma or not.
All patients should seek a second or third opinion on their condition outside a general oncologist. It’s possible for mesothelioma patients to receive a misdiagnosis when a general oncologist confuses their condition with a type of lung or abdominal cancer.
Avoid putting yourself at risk of a misdiagnosis. Contact a specialist to get an accurate diagnosis so you can begin receiving life-extending treatments immediately.