Meaning of Mesothelioma
me·so·the·li·o·ma | mez-uh-thee-lee-oh-muh
Plural: mesotheliomas, mesotheliomata
mes·o·the·li·o·mas, mes·o·the·li·o·ma·ta | mez-uh-thee-lee-oh-muh-tuh
Medical Definition of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma meaning: A cancerous tumor, typically malignant, that develops in the mesothelial tissue that lines the lungs, abdominal organs, chest wall, abdominal cavity, heart cavity or testicles. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, when the mineral fibers are inhaled or ingested and lodge in the mesothelium lining. The disease can develop 15 to 60 years after a person was exposed to asbestos, typically while on the job or serving in the military.
Types of Mesothelioma
About 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year in the United States. Oftentimes, a mesothelioma diagnosis comes as a surprise because the cause of the cancer, asbestos exposure, may have happened decades before.
Because the mesothelium tissue lines many of the body’s organs, the cancer can occur in multiple areas of the body. There are four types of malignant mesothelioma:
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the asbestos cancer, making up about 75 percent of cases. Pleural mesothelioma is caused when microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled, lodging in the pleura mesothelium lining around the chest wall and lungs. Pleural mesothelioma tumors can spread throughout the chest, as well as into the heart (pericardial) space and diaphragm.
There is no cure for pleural mesothelioma, but patients may be able to undergo a number of treatment options to increase their life expectancy and ease the pain. Patients who are healthier and who are diagnosed in the earlier stages of the cancer have a better chance for more effective treatments.
Treatment for pleural mesothelioma includes:
- Surgery: Surgery for pleural mesothelioma may be used to remove as much of the tumor as possible. (Surgery is more likely to be an option for patients diagnosed with Stage I or II pleural mesothelioma.)
- Chemotherapy: This traditional treatment method aims to stop the cancer cells from spreading.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation targets specific areas to kill the cancer cells.
- Clinical trials: Patients may be able to try new treatments that are in development and are not on the market yet by participating in clinical trials. Your doctor can help determine which clinical trials may be right for you.
- Holistic treatments: Patients may try acupuncture, yoga and other holistic treatment options as a way to improve their emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.
Pleural mesothelioma patients are often treated with a combination of these methods. Doctors may also employ other treatment options as a way to decrease pain and make sure the patient is as comfortable as possible. (This is known as palliative care.)
The second-most common type of mesothelioma is peritoneal mesothelioma, sometimes defined as abdominal mesothelioma. Anywhere from 20 percent to 33 percent of the new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each year are in the peritoneum, the tissue lining the abdominal organs and the abdominal cavity. Peritoneal mesothelioma is caused when asbestos fibers are inhaled or swallowed and stick in this tissue.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is not curable, but there are several treatment options to help alleviate patients’ pain and improve their prognosis. Treatment options will depend on the patient’s health and how early the cancer is detected. They may include:
- Cytoreduction surgery: Referred to as debulking, this type of surgery aims to remove cancerous tissue from the peritoneal (abdominal) cavity.
- Heated Intraoperative Chemotherapy: Also referred to as HIPEC, this type of chemotherapy is administered directly to the abdominal area during surgery.
- Traditional radiation therapy and chemotherapy: These common cancer treatments may be used in combination with other treatments.
- Clinical trials and holistic treatments: As with pleural mesothelioma, patients may choose to explore additional treatment opportunities through mesothelioma clinical trials or holistic approaches.
Pericardial mesothelioma is a rarer type of the asbestos cancer that develops in the pericardium tissue that lines the heart. As with the more common pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma is caused by asbestos fibers being inhaled or ingested.
Although pericardial mesothelioma tumors can be benign or malignant, a large majority of cases are not caught in an early stage. This means treatment is aimed at preventing the cancer from spreading and relieving pain.
Treatment for pericardial mesothelioma can include:
- Pericardiectomy: This surgical procedure, which is also referred to as pericardial stripping, removes all or a part of the pericardium tissue. This tissue is meant to protect the heart but is not necessary for the heart to function normally. Pericardial mesothelioma patients typically only survive about six months if the cancerous tissue is not surgically removed.
- Chemotherapy: This traditional cancer treatment can be used to reduce symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
- Clinical trials and holistic treatments: Patients may explore treatments that are being tested in clinical trials or turn to holistic options to ease symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma.
Also referred to as mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis testis, testicular mesothelioma is the rarest type of mesothelioma. The cancer develops as a tumor in the tissue membrane covering the testicle.
Because testicular mesothelioma is so rare, not much research has been done to define its characteristics, making diagnosis difficult. However, some research indicates that patients with testicular mesothelioma may have a better prognosis than those with pleural, peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma.
Treatment for testicular mesothelioma may include:
- Radical inguinal orchiectomy or other surgeries: A surgeon may choose to remove the affected testicle and perform a lymphadenectomy to evaluate lymph nodes near the tumor.
- Chemotherapy: As with other types of mesothelioma, chemotherapy may be used to slow the spread of the cancer and ease the pain.
- Clinical trials of new treatment options
- Holistic approaches
Symptoms of mesothelioma are most commonly felt in the chest or abdomen, but the specific symptoms vary depending on the type of mesothelioma a patient is diagnosed with.
Pleural mesothelioma symptoms may include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Fluid build-up around the lungs (also known as pleural effusion)
- Pain in the chest
- Chronic, dry or painful cough
- Lack of energy or fatigue
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Lumps on the chest area
Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms can include:
- Pain and swelling in the abdominal area
- Build-up of fluid in the abdomen (also known as ascites)
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Lumps in the abdominal area
Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms can include:
- Fluid build-up in the pericardial space around the heart
- Heart palpitations
- Pain in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
Testicular mesothelioma symptoms can include:
- Swelling or pain in the testicle
- A testicular mass
- Build-up of fluid in the scrotum
If you or a family member is experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor and talk about your history of asbestos exposure. You doctor will likely perform a chest X-ray, MRI, CT scan or other imaging tests to evaluate your symptoms. Ultimately, your doctor will need to do a biopsy in order to make a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
The median life expectancy for mesothelioma patients ranges from 12 to 21 months. The prognosis depends on what stage the cancer is when the patient is diagnosed, as well as the person’s overall health, age and gender.
For patients diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma, research has indicated that survival time could range from six weeks to 15 months. Due to the rarity of cases involving testicular mesothelioma, the prognosis is unclear for that type of cancer.
Researchers reported on an array of mesothelioma statistics and hypotheses in an analysis published in the Journal of Cellular Physiology. Among the mesothelioma facts reported:
- More than 20 million people in the United States are at risk of being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos.
- The rate of mesothelioma cases in the United States rose dramatically from the late 1950s to the early part of this century, then stabilized at about 2,500 to 3,000 new diagnoses per year.
- Mesothelioma mortality rates are expected to rise 5 percent to 10 percent each year in most industrialized countries around the world, with the increase continuing until approximately 2020.
- The rate of malignant mesothelioma cases in men has been on the rise over the past 50 years. However, the rate of mesothelioma in women has not changed significantly.
- About 3,000 people die from mesothelioma each year in the United States. In addition, about 5,000 people die from the asbestos cancer each year in Western Europe.
- Because there is no cure for this devastating cancer, more than 100,000 Americans are expected to die due to mesothelioma over the next 40 years.
- In addition to causing malignant mesothelioma, asbestos has been proven to cause lung cancer, asbestosis, pleural fibrosis and plaques, and laryngeal cancer.
- Researchers do not believe there is a “linear dose-response relationship” between asbestos exposure and malignant mesothelioma. This means it is not believed that the more a person is exposed to asbestos, the more the risk for developing mesothelioma. A person with one-time exposure may develop the disease, while a person with a long history of exposure may not.
- Some of the biggest companies in the United States have gone bankrupt as sick workers and their families have successfully pursued lawsuits against them for failing to warn of the danger of asbestos products.
- Despite the large amounts companies have been forced to pay to asbestos victims, the researchers reported that they had not found evidence that asbestos companies had made any major investments to assist in the prevention and treatment of mesothelioma.
- Many European countries have banned the use of asbestos products. However, the United States still allows asbestos to be used in certain commercial products. The researchers speculated that the continued import of asbestos-containing materials in the United States, in addition to continued exposure from older asbestos materials that remain in many buildings, will be mesothelioma risk factors for decades to come.
Financial Help for Those Struggling with Mesothelioma
For years, companies that made and sold asbestos-containing materials knew of the danger their products could cause but failed to warn the public. As a result, millions of hardworking Americans unknowingly risked their lives.
A knowledgeable Belluck & Fox mesothelioma lawyer can help you and your family pursue compensation from the company(s) responsible for your asbestos exposure. This may include payment for:
- Medical expenses such as surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, medications, hospital stays, hospice care, future anticipated medical bills, etc.
- Lost income and reduced earning capacity if you had to leave work due to a mesothelioma diagnosis
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering
- Wrongful death damages on behalf of those who have lost a loved one to the preventable cancer
In addition to pursuing a personal injury or wrongful death claim, you may be eligible for veterans’ benefits, Social Security Disability benefits or workers’ compensation payments. An experienced mesothelioma attorney can discuss your situation and explain all your legal options at no charge to you during a free consultation.
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American Cancer Society: What Are the Key Statistics About Malignant Mesothelioma?
Journal of Cellular Physiology: Malignant Mesothelioma: Facts, Myths and Hypotheses
Heart: Primary Pericardial Mesothelioma Presenting as Pericardial Constriction: A Case Report