Malignant Mesothelioma FAQs
What is mesothelioma asbestos cancer?
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that is caused when a person inhales or ingests asbestos fibers. It develops in the mesothelium, which is a tissue membrane that lines the chest cavity, abdominal cavity, lungs, and other internal organs. Because the disease’s only known cause is asbestos, mesothelioma is sometimes called the asbestos cancer.
What is the difference between asbestos and mesothelioma?
Asbestos refers to a group of six fibrous minerals that occur naturally in the environment. These minerals have been used in many industrial and household products over the years. Asbestos is considered a dangerous carcinogen, which means it is a cause of cancer. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
How do you get mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma can develop 15 to 60 years after a person was exposed to asbestos. Most people came into contact with asbestos on the job, such as at factories, shipyards, construction sites, and industrial facilities. However, others have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma after secondhand exposure to asbestos, such as from coming into contact with the dangerous material when it was carried home on loved one’s uniforms.
How does asbestos cause mesothelioma?
People who are exposed to asbestos typically inhale tiny fibers that stick in the pleura tissue lining the lungs and coating the chest wall. (That’s why pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of the cancer.) These asbestos fibers can cause irritation and inflammation in the pleura for many years before malignant pleural mesothelioma develops.
In some cases, people ingest rather than inhale the microscopic asbestos fibers, which can then become lodged in the tissue lining the abdominal cavity and organs. This can eventually cause peritoneal mesothelioma, also known as abdominal mesothelioma. In rare cases, the asbestos fibers make their way to the tissue lining the heart or the testicles, resulting in pericardial or testicular mesothelioma.
How dangerous is asbestos?
Asbestos poses a serious health hazard to anyone exposed to it. Since the 1970s, the U.S. government has been working to reduce the use of asbestos-containing materials and has implemented asbestos safety precautions for workers who may come into contact with the deadly material. However, it is still not completely banned in the United States. And there is no safe level of exposure.
Asbestos exposure can lead to a number of serious diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.
What causes mesothelioma other than asbestos?
Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, compared with lung cancer, which can be caused by smoking as well as asbestos exposure.
When does mesothelioma develop?
Malignant mesothelioma can develop 15 to 60 years after a person was exposed to asbestos. Because the latency period for the disease is so long, many people do not immediately connect their symptoms to their asbestos exposure. However, it is important for anyone who has been exposed to asbestos to tell the doctor immediately if he or she is experiencing any symptoms indicating lung disease.
Is mesothelioma the same as lung cancer?
People may confuse malignant mesothelioma with lung cancer. However, these are two separate types of cancer. Lung cancer is a carcinoma that affects the lung itself. Mesothelioma is a cancer that attacks the mesothelium tissue that lines the lungs, chest cavity, and other organs in the body. Exposure to asbestos can cause both types of cancer, but it is the only known cause of malignant mesothelioma.
What is asbestosis disease?
Asbestosis disease is a chronic lung condition that is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. The asbestos fibers lodge in tiny sacs in the lungs, known as alveoli. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath, tightness and pain in the chest, chronic cough, loss of appetite, weight loss, and clubbing of fingers and toes. Treatment can include use of an oxygen tube or mask, pulmonary rehabilitation exercises, or a lung transplant in extreme cases.
Are asbestosis and mesothelioma the same?
No. Although both of these diseases, along with lung cancer, are commonly associated with exposure to asbestos, they are not the same.
Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease, not a cancer. It is caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers, which can get stuck in the small sacs in the lungs. Having asbestosis can increase a patient’s chances for developing asbestos-related lung cancer.
Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer. It affects the mesothelium tissue, which lines the lungs and chest wall, as well as the abdominal cavity, heart, and testicles. Malignant mesothelioma is caused by the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers, which lodge in the mesothelium tissue.
Can adenocarcinoma be caused by asbestos?
Adenocarcinoma is a cancer that originates in the glandular cells. According to the National Cancer Institute, most cancers of the lung, prostate, colon, pancreas, and breast are adenocarcinomas. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can be a cause of adenocarcinoma in the lungs.
What is malignant pleural mesothelioma?
Malignant pleural mesothelioma is caused when asbestos fibers or dust is inhaled and sticks in the pleura tissue that coats the lungs and chest cavity. These fibers can cause irritation in the tissue, resulting in pleural plaques, diffuse pleural thickening, pleural effusion, and other conditions. Malignant pleural mesothelioma does not typically develop until 15 to 60 years after a person was exposed to asbestos.
Why is malignant pleural mesothelioma the most common type of mesothelioma?
Most people are exposed to asbestos when fibers from asbestos-containing materials become airborne. This could happen when cutting, sanding, drilling, filing, or otherwise disturbing these dangerous materials. In the past, some workers also were exposed to raw asbestos, which was mixed with other materials to form products such as asbestos cement.
Airborne asbestos fibers could easily drift across an entire worksite, putting everyone in the vicinity at risk, not just those who were working directly with the material. This widespread exposure risk makes pleural mesothelioma the most common type of the disease.
Can mesothelioma be inherited?
No, malignant mesothelioma cannot be inherited, and it is not contagious. However, family members could have been exposed to asbestos secondhand (known as take-home asbestos) when those who worked with the material accidentally brought fibers home on clothing or uniforms. Secondhand exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma.
Is there a test for asbestos exposure?
Although there are no mesothelioma screening tests yet, if you know or suspect that you have been exposed to asbestos, you should talk to your doctor about doing a chest X-ray once a year. X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs can be used to help diagnose mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases early. Also, cutting-edge blood tests (such as the MESOMARK blood test) have the potential to improve your chances of early detection.
What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?
The symptoms of mesothelioma, particularly pleural mesothelioma, can be confused with those of many other less serious diseases. Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos in the past should talk to their doctor immediately if they begin to experience:
- Trouble breathing
- Pain in the chest
- A build-up of fluid on the lungs (known as pleural effusion)
- Ongoing cough
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
How are you diagnosed with mesothelioma?
Your doctor will first do a physical exam and talk to you about your symptoms and work history. He or she will likely perform a chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and other tests. A biopsy will ultimately be needed to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.
How do you treat malignant mesothelioma?
Treatment for malignant mesothelioma will depend on the patient’s health and the stage at which the cancer was caught. The most common treatment options include:
- Surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible
- Radiation therapy
The patient’s doctor may also help a family find clinical trials for mesothelioma or recommend holistic treatments to improve the patient’s quality of life.
Why is mesothelioma so hard to treat?
Treatment for malignant mesothelioma is complicated by many factors. First, because people may not develop mesothelioma until decades years after they were exposed to asbestos, many patients are older and in poor health by the time they are diagnosed. This leaves them fewer options for treatment.
In addition, because the aggressive cancer is so rare and symptoms are similar to other diseases, doctors may not recognize it right away. This means many cases of malignant mesothelioma are not diagnosed until the cancer has progressed to a stage that is much more difficult to treat.
Is mesothelioma always malignant?
Benign (or noncancerous) tumors can develop in the mesothelium tissue lining. However, these tumors are not the result of asbestos exposure, and they can be removed with a positive prognosis for the patient. Unfortunately, though, the large majority of mesothelioma cases are malignant. Benign cases are extremely rare.
Can a benign tumor turn into cancer?
Benign tumors, if not removed, are usually carefully monitored for changes that may indicate they have turned cancerous. For people who have had a benign mesothelioma tumor removed, there is a risk that the tumor could come back as cancer.
Is a malignant tumor curable?
In some cases, doctors may be able to remove a malignant tumor and attempt to kill off any remaining cancer cells with chemotherapy and radiation. However, even if the surgery and treatment are successful, that does not mean a patient is “cured.” The tumor can come back. Particularly in the case of mesothelioma, complete eradication of the cancer is not possible.
Is mesothelioma curable?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for malignant mesothelioma. However, there are many palliative treatments available that can help ease a patient’s pain and possibly extend his or her life expectancy. In addition, researchers are always exploring new drugs and treatment options that provide hope for a cure in the future.
What is the prognosis for mesothelioma?
Because mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that is often detected in the late stages, the prognosis for patients is not good. Treatment options generally focus on keeping a patient comfortable, rather than on eradicating the cancer. The earlier the cancer is detected, though, the better the prognosis. So people who have been exposed to asbestos in the past should see a doctor at the first sign of symptoms.
What is the life expectancy of a person with mesothelioma?
Research has estimated a median survival time for malignant mesothelioma patients of less than a year. In cases where the cancer is diagnosed early and treatment is aggressive, research has shown a life expectancy of two to five years.
Patients can improve their life expectancy by focusing on their overall health and exploring every mesothelioma treatment option available, including clinical trials.
Is mesothelioma fatal?
Unfortunately, yes. Researchers have not yet found a cure for the disease, and patients typically do not have a long life expectancy. However, treatment options are constantly evolving, and there is hope that life expectancies will improve with future research.
What are the stages of mesothelioma?
The progression of pleural mesothelioma is measured in four stages, which can depend on tumor growth or growth in lymph nodes:
- Stage 1: The cancer is only found on one side of the pleura lining the chest.
- Stage 2: The cancer has metastasized, or spread.
- Stage 3: The cancer has spread beyond one side of the chest (or further spreading within the same side, depending on the staging system being used to measure).
- Stage 4: The cancer has spread to other organs or the blood.
Malignant pleural mesothelioma is the only type of mesothelioma for which there are established staging systems.
How long do you have to live with Stage 4 cancer?
Because Stage 4 means that the mesothelioma has spread, or metastasized, people diagnosed at this stage typically have less than 12 months to live.
Is it possible to cure Stage 4 cancer?
No, patients diagnosed with Stage 4 mesothelioma are in the advanced stage of the disease and have fewer treatment options available. Although there is no cure for mesothelioma at any stage, patients are often not diagnosed until the cancer has reached this advanced stage, making their prognosis unfavorable. Treatment for patients with Stage 4 mesothelioma focuses on making the person as comfortable as possible.
What are the most common surgeries for mesothelioma?
If a patient is in relatively good health and the cancer is detected early, surgery may be an option. Some of the common surgeries for malignant mesothelioma include:
- Extrapleural Pneumonectomy (EPP), where the surgeon removes the lung, the affected pleura and pericardium tissue, and nearby lymph nodes. An extrapleural pneumonectomy is an extremely invasive surgery that is not an option for all patients.
- Pleurectomy Decortication (P/D), where the doctor removes the pleura lining the affected lung and the chest cavity, as well as the tissue that lines the mediastinum and the diaphragm. Pleurectomy decortication is less invasive than an extrapleural pneumonectomy.
- Cytoreduction or debulking surgery, which is used to treat peritoneal mesothelioma by removing all signs of the cancer from the abdominal cavity. This surgery is usually done at the same time as heated interoperative chemotherapy.
Other surgical procedures your doctor may consider include debulking pleurectomy, decortication of the lung, segmentectomy of the lung, or a lobectomy. Most of these treatments would be in addition to radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
How can I find clinical trials for mesothelioma?
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma or another form of the disease, you should talk to your doctor about your options for participating in a clinical trial. Although there is no single directory of clinical trials to look through, your doctor can point you in the right direction and discuss how a trial may fit into your current treatment plan. Here are some sites to help start your search:
How much does treatment for mesothelioma cost?
Unfortunately, treatment for malignant mesothelioma can be extremely expensive. For example, a pleural mesothelioma patient who needs surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and follow-up treatment could easily face more than $100,000 in medical bills. Then there are the additional costs of ongoing daily care.
However, patients and their families may be entitled to compensation from asbestos companies to cover the cost of mesothelioma treatment and other expenses. Patients and families should seek legal advice as soon as possible to learn about their options for financial help.
How much does it cost to hire a lawyer for a mesothelioma case?
Many families find themselves overwhelmed by the cost of mesothelioma treatment and the challenges of caring for a loved one full time. You should not have to worry about how you can afford legal help, too.
A good malignant mesothelioma attorney will provide a free initial consultation on your case. You should also not be charged anything to get started on your claim. Instead, the attorney should be willing to handle your case on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything until the attorney recovers compensation for you.