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Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor that is caused by inhaled asbestos fibers and forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Symptoms can include shortness of breath and chest pain. The life expectancy for most mesothelioma patients is approximately 12 months after diagnosis. Treatment may improve prognosis and can include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.
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Mesothelioma is an incurable, asbestos-related cancer that typically affects the lining of the lungs. However, mesothelioma tumors can develop in the lining of the abdominal cavity or heart.
Key Facts about Mesothelioma
Symptoms of mesothelioma appear when tumors spread, grow and press against the chest wall and the abdominal cavity. Chest pain and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms.
A balanced mesothelioma diet can help ease your symptoms and speed recovery. Get a free nutrition guide with quick and easy recipes that can help improve your quality of life.Get Your Nutrition Guide
A biopsy is the only mesothelioma test that confirms a diagnosis. Doctors may use additional diagnostic procedures. An early mesothelioma diagnosis may increase a patient’s eligibility for all treatment options.
Most people initially undergo a basic chest X-ray to check for any abnormalities. If an abnormal growth or fluid around the lung is detected, doctors will recommend a more detailed imaging scan such as a PET scan, CT scan or MRI.
If cancer is suspected, doctors will recommend taking a sample of tissue, also knowns as a biopsy. Doctors use this tissue sample to definitively confirm the presence of malignant mesothelioma cells.
Blood tests may be used but do not confirm the presence of mesothelioma. Researchers are evaluating if blood tests can aid in the early diagnosis of at-risk former asbestos workers.
Doctors use at least five staging systems to stage pleural mesothelioma. The IMIG staging system is preferred. No universal staging system exists for the other mesothelioma types.
Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma. People exposed to asbestos at home, work or in the military have a higher risk of developing the disease.
A person inhales or swallows microscopic airborne asbestos fibers.
The asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart.
Embedded fibers damage mesothelial cells and cause inflammation.
Over time, tumors form on the damaged mesothelium, leading to mesothelioma.
The stages of mesothelioma range from 1 to 4 and are based on tumor size and location.
Early-stage mesothelioma is usually more confined to one site, while late-stage mesothelioma shows tumors spreading beyond the chest or abdominal cavity. Staging is an important part of determining treatment.
The cancer is localized. Surgery is most effective at this stage. Survival rate is higher. A patient’s median life expectancy at stage 1 is 22.2 months.Learn About Stage 1
Tumors have spread from the original location and moved into adjacent structures. Surgery is still an option. Median life expectancy at stage 2 is 20 months.Learn About Stage 2
Cancer has spread into the regional lymph nodes. Surgery is an option in select circumstances. The patient’s median life expectancy at stage 3 is 17.9 months.Learn About Stage 3
Tumors have spread into distant organs. Chemotherapy and immunotherapy ease symptoms. Median life expectancy at stage 4 is 14.9 months.Learn About Stage 4
The four types of mesothelioma cancer are identified by the location in the body where tumors develop. Pleural and peritoneal types of mesothelioma are the most common. Pericardial mesothelioma accounts for 1% of cases.
Prognosis, symptoms and treatment options vary by mesothelioma type.
There are three cell types of mesothelioma named for the cancer cells found in the tumors: Epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic. Some are more common and respond well to treatments. Others are rarer and more resistant to therapies.
These cells are the most responsive to treatment. This type of mesothelioma accounts for 70% of mesothelioma diagnoses. It also leads to improved prognosis and life expectancy.Read More
Cells of this type are least responsive to treatment. Patients with these cell types have poorer diagnoses and shorter life expectancies. This mesothelioma type accounts for 10% of all cases.Read More
This is a combination of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. It’s less responsive to treatment. Prognosis and life expectancy depend on the ratio of both cell types. It accounts for 30% to 40% of cases.Read More
Mesothelioma cancer is treated with conventional therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. But not every patient is eligible for each type of mesothelioma treatment. Some patients also opt for emerging cancer treatments, including clinical trials, and alternative therapies.
This therapy is used for diagnosing, removing tumors or easing pain. It offers the greatest chance of survival for patients with strong health and limited cancer spread.Read More
More than 70% of patients undergo chemotherapy. The therapy’s strong drugs shrink tumors and kill cancer cells, but it also presents severe treatment side effects.Read More
The therapy can be used at any cancer stage. Doctors perform it to reduce pain and slow tumor growth. It is often combined with surgery and chemotherapy.Read More
Researchers and doctors offer these experimental therapies across the nation to eligible patients. Clinical trials lead to new or improved treatments.Read More
Doctors who focus on mesothelioma at specialty treatment centers provide patients the best chances of extending life and improving prognosis.
Mesothelioma specialists encompass a number of specialties, including surgery, medical and radiation oncology, radiology, pathology and palliative care. All can be part of a patient’s treatment plan. Working with an experienced mesothelioma doctor can make all the difference.Review Top Doctors
The most-regarded treatment centers attract people from across the country. Renowned for their cutting-edge technology and groundbreaking research, these centers can connect you with a multidisciplinary team of physicians with years of experience in treating asbestos-related diseases.Review Top Treatment Centers
Most doctors and oncologists have never encountered mesothelioma because it is a rare cancer.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine shows cancer care “requires the technical knowledge and skills of specialty physicians such as medical oncologists, surgeons and radiation oncologists.”
The prognosis for mesothelioma is not good. The life expectancy for most patients is about 12 months after diagnosis. Those who can undergo multimodal therapy, which is a combination of two or more treatments, have an improved prognosis.
Factors that most affect mesothelioma prognosis are stage and cell type. Age, gender and exposure history also affect outlook. Younger patients and women have a better mesothelioma prognosis than older men. People diagnosed with the peritoneal mesothelioma type also have a higher chance of survival.
Patients can improve prognosis by eating a nutrient-rich diet, staying healthy, undergoing cancer treatments and making healthier lifestyle choices such as quitting smoking.
Legal and financial options for mesothelioma patients and their families can provide financial compensation to pay medical bills, cover lost wages and other expenses. A mesothelioma lawyer can review your case, so you receive the highest compensation.
A mesothelioma patient can file a personal injury lawsuit. The estate of the patient who died from mesothelioma can file a wrongful death lawsuit.Read More
Bankrupt asbestos companies established trust funds to provide compensation for people exposed to asbestos because of company negligence.Read More
Because the U.S. military relied heavily on asbestos, veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma may be eligible for financial and medical benefits.Read More
Many forms of support are available for mesothelioma patients, survivors, loved ones and families.