Malignant Mesothelioma FAQs
How can you get mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. Most people were exposed to 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 exposure 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 accidentally ingest the microscopic asbestos fibers, which can then become lodged in the tissue lining the abdominal cavity and organs, eventually causing peritoneal 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.
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 their doctor immediately if they experience any symptoms indicating lung disease.
Is mesothelioma a type of 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.
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 stick in the alveoli (or 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 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 have the potential to improve your chances of early detection.
What are the first signs 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
Your doctor may perform an X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and other tests to reach a 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 malignant mesothelioma until 60 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 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.
Can I survive mesothelioma?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for malignant 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 years 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.
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.
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.
Why is pleural mesothelioma the most common type of the cancer?
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. 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.
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.