Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor of the covering of the lung or pleural linings and the cavities of the abdomen associated with constant exposure to asbestos. It is a very aggressive cancer that affects vital organs in the human body.
We all know that the pleura is a membrane that envelops on enfolds the lungs, preventing them from sticking to other close tissues while breathing. Other essential organs affected by this disease are the perioneum (the membrane that forms the lining of the abdominal cavity) and the abdominal area itself due to spreading.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
There are several symptoms of pleural malignant mesothelioma which we are going to mention here. Often times, the most common symptoms of pleural malignant mesothelioma are shortness of breath and acute chest pains, leading many to misdiagnose it as a heart disease leading to the progression of the problem. Other common symptoms are:
- Sweating constantly
- Whooping cough
- Lack and loss of appetite
- Body pains
- Problems with sleeping
This disease does not immediately affect both lungs. It first affects one of them (respect to none of them as some might believe) and spreads to the other. The best bet anyone has is never to assume because when we assume, it gives room for the problem to spread giving room little or no solutions at some point.
Causes of Mesothelioma
Mesotheliomas, occur when cells in our bodies suffer certain damage to their DNA. (DNA is the chemical in each of our cells that makes up our genes). Some genes control when cells in the body grow, divide into new set of cells, and die at the right time. Changes in these genes may cause cells to grow excessively, which can eventually lead to mesothelioma.
Asbestos exposure is the main cause of mesothelioma. When asbestos fibers are breathed in the lungs, they travel to the ends of small air passages reaching the pleura, where they can cause inflammations. These inflammations may damage cell’s DNA and cause changes that result in uncontrolled cell growth. Exposure is not the only factor, on ingestion, it leads to peritoneal mesothelioma.
But most people exposed to asbestos, even in large quantities, do not get mesothelioma. Other factors, such as a personal gene, may put them more likely to develop mesothelioma when exposed to asbestos. From research we have found that some people who seem to be at high risk have changes in BAP1 (a gene that normally helps keep cell growth under control). Other genes are probably important as well but not as these ones.
Life Expectancy of Mesothelioma Patients
From experience over the years, the average life expectancy for patients suffering from mesothelioma ranges from 14 to 24 months. There are several factors that affect the patient’s lifespan which include overall health before disease, age and stage of disease.
About 38 percent of patients exceed one year while about 10 percent live longer than 3 years. However, the problem with mesothelioma is that it really does not show up until the late stages and without treatment, life expectancy becomes lower than anticipated.
There are many factors affecting life expectancy of a mesothlioma patient, some of which are:
The location which the mesothelioma affects also determines life expectancy of the affected patient. Patients affected by pleural mesothelioma have a higher or should I say longer life expectancy than those with peritoneal mesothelioma who have a shorter life expectancy although science has helped this improve due to more effective treatment methods.
Stage of infection
The early stages of infection mostly known as Stage I or stage II when diagnosed early, gives little or no room for spreading and allows treatments to be more effective. However when the problem is detected late at stages III AND IV respectively, the mesothelioma has spread beyond the point of infection making it more difficult to treat and reducing life expectancy rate respectively.
Age of affected patient
This is a very obvious factor medically I mean brushing the topic at hand aside, we all know that our immune system definitely will not be what it was when we much younger. Older patients diagnosed with mesothelioma have shorter life expectancies living about 5 to 6 months below the normal average expectancy period.
This is a more general factor. Why you might ask? Well we all know that women hardly walk in the asbestos industry although there are a few of them there. This therefore points to the fact that men are more affected by this due to their jobs, sort of an occupational hazard which many are not aware of.
As we said earlier mesothelioma is a very difficult disease to diagnose so it therefore takes seeing a lot of doctors and undergoing numerous tests before you get fully diagnosed and begin immediate treatments. Signs you need to go see the doctor which sometimes seems unrelated to the disease are:
- High levels of calcium in the blood
- Abnormalities in blood clotting
- Low blood sugar
When you visit the medical doctor, you will find out that when touched, you feel something like a mass weighing on your chest wall and when tapped you hear a very dull sound which is sort of an indication of fluid buildup.
So far, many doctors and hospitals use different methods for diagnosis giving little or no room for one to label one as the best or most used. All methods used so far have been proven to be efficient and we are going to discuss them below:
This is one of the least used method though where a surgical procedure is taken to examine the space between and in front of the lungs known as the “mediastinium”. This involves a small cut a small cut on your neck just above your breastbone and inserting a small scope called the mediastinoscope through the opening to view the area.
Using this we visualize the cancer and also see if it has spread to the mediastinal lymph nodes. Mind you are you are given an anesthesia during the process, you don’t want to be awake during this process.
Popularly known as poitron emission tomography scan involves the injection of radiopharmaceuticals into the patient’s veins(small radioactive materials) which takes about an hour for it to get to the lungs.
At collection in the lungs, the PET scan picks up the energy released from the dyes emitted, creating pictures showing the structure and surrounding tissues of the lungs. The reason why it is called a PET-CT is that while this is done, a CT scan is conducted at the same time providing a 3D image.
From research and studies, the PET-CT has boasted a 93% accuracy standpoint amongst others making it very efficient. PET-CT is also used to know the stage the cancer has reached.
This is a form of CT scan where we use dyes containing glucose. This dye collects more of the cancer than the normal cells in a great amount. This is also an efficient method as it is not only for diagnosis but also to check how well the body is responding to treatment Better response to treatment shows the dye gathering less amounts of cancer cels on injection.
4. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging):
As the name clearly implies, an MRI uses magnetic energy instead of radiation previously discussed in other methods. Here you lie in an enclosed space with the equipment providing images of tissues and organs. The magnetic resonance gotten from the equipment is use to see if the tumor can be surgically removed and the depth of the cancer.
5. Chest CT:
This is used to check if the tumor has spread to the chest walls ribs and other tissues in the body. It is a type of x-ray that uses a lot more radiation to provide us with better image including a 3-dimensional view which really helps with diagnosis.
Many cancers have specific types of treatments used to treat patients but when it comes to mesothelio, there is no single treatment protocol.
From statistics mesothelioma is very rear compared to other cancers and is not given the kind of funds for large scale research to determine the best treatment for different stages.
This cancer has no cure and the only aim is to reduce the pains of affected people, prolonging their lives for as long as possible. The different methods are what we are going to discuss now;
Studies have shown that patients with mesothelioma who undergo surgery are the ones who survive the longest and only a few patients undergo surgery. The survival statistic of surgery is likely only when early diagnosed making you eligible for surgery.
There are 2 types of surgeries for mesothelioma:
- Radical extrapleural pneumonectomy:
Here the surgeon tries to removes the entire affected lungs, using radiation to remove or destroy any remaining tumor cells. This surgery has been very successful as 85% of patients who have been through this process have never had issues with tumors reoccurring. This process is a very complicated one with a death rate of 3% or more. It is also performed mostly in young patients whose cancer have not spread throughout the chest and have the epithelical form of the disease.
This process is less complicated with the surgeon removing as much tumor from the lungs. The only problem with this method is that it has a high failure rate with tumors recurring in the chest cavity about 85 percent of the time.
Here oral or infusion based medications are used to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy is used for patients who qualify for surgery as well as those who do not. The most commonly used chemotherapy drugs for mesothelioma are:
These drugs are also combined most of the time with a lot of traditional combinations used in various institutions. Unfortunately, mesothelioma has proven to be resistant to chemotherapy even newer methods.
The ineffectiveness of normal radiation due to the doctor’s inability to increase the intensity of the radiation used because of the closeness of the tumor to the heart therefore causing recurrences has led to newer options. The intensity-modulated radiotherapy(IMRT)is better and more accurate as you can target the cancer cells more effectively without any health issues arising.
It is also used in palliative settings to improve breathing.
This method uses the power of the immune system to fight the disease giving them immunotoxins together with permetrexed alongside cisplatin turning the immune system to gladiators who fight and destroy the tumors, more rapidly than expected. This is more detailed and can be explained by physicians.
Mesothelioma has no definitive cure. Even with early diagnosis, the life expectancy is still very low. With new therapies coming everyday and new ways to tackle the problem arising every day, it is safe to say there is hope for people suffering from mesothelioma. It is said that early diagnosis is important to determine your prognosis, there are other factors that provide prognostic informations.
Contributors of Good Prognosis Information’s
- Stage of disease
- Lack of chest pain
- Epithelial form of disease
- Symptoms for six months or less before diagnosis
Contributors of Bad Prognosis Information’s
- Thrombocytosis (increased number of blood platelets)
- Leukocytosis (increased number of white blood cells)
- Male sex
- Poor performance status
- Fever unrelated to infection
- Age older than 65
- Poor performance status
We have to say that even with the fact that this cancer has no cure, there is hope to actually increase life expectancy of affected patients and also ease the pain associated with this cancer.
Enlightenment is also key as early diagnosis and prognosis determination have been the key factors to keeping the problem at bay, giving affected individuals a reason to smile as they live their lives.
Always have hope especially those who have loved ones in this situation. Hope is essential as treatments without hope is almost a waste of time.