We Know: All About Mesothelioma

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a cancerous lung disease in which nano-sized particles of a non-degrading substance such as asbestos dust have worked their way into the lining of the lungs and formed hard nodules, reducing the capacity of the lungs to function. It is incurable, and is very likely to lead to death.

What is the history of mesothelioma?

In 1999, ten percent of the population of a small town in Montana was diagnosed with a rare, deadly, and hard-to-detect lung disease called mesothelioma. The disease was known to be caused by asbestos, and the town's economy was built around the mining of asbestos. As investigators and physicians gradually pieced together information, it became very clear that the mining company had lied to the citizens of the town for decades, slowly poisoning the air, the ground, and the water of the community. It's projected that by the time cases of mesothelioma and related lung diseases have been fully diagnosed, as many as one-third of the long-term citizens of the town will be in treatment.

How Do You Get Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma can only be contracted if you have inhaled or ingested nano-sized dust particles of a particular size, shape, and consistency, usually a particular type of asbestos. In addition, research indicates that it must trigger your immune system in a particular way. While not everyone exposed to asbestos and a few similar substances gets mesothelioma, the more extensive your exposure is, the more likely you'll develop it. While it's most common to contract mesothelioma from work directly exposing you to asbestos, like mining or construction, wives washing work clothes or children playing in contaminated areas may also get the disease.

How Is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

For most people, the first signs of mesothelioma are a shortness of breath, a cough that won't go away, and a feeling of choking, as if your airway is being obstructed. Though mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos as much as fifteen years before the onset of symptoms, it's often diagnosed only three or four months after the first onset of symptoms. Unfortunately,  the cancer has generally metastasized, or spread to other parts of the body, by this time.

While lungs in pre-mesothelioma stages have few if any symptoms, once mesothelioma has developed symptoms crop up at an alarming pace. In the beginning, asbestos particles invade the tiniest sacs of the lungs, and then work outward into the lung lining, which contains the lungs in a flexible sac. The particles irritate this lining and cause an immune system reaction that builds scar tissue up around the asbestos. Lungs with a little of this scar tissue aren't usually affected in a negative manner. However, the more extensive the scarring the less flexible your lungs become. Ultimately, the sac changes from the consistence of a thick balloon to the consistency of an orange peel -- and this means it cannot properly expand to contain your lungs. It also makes these nodules very susceptible to a particular type of cancer.

You should also be aware that mesothelioma can grow very painful as the lungs fill with fluid and infection. Persons with mesothelioma should be prepared to begin pain medications in short order. Treating the pain can actually help you fight the disease better.

What Are the Treatments?

Unfortunately, there are few treatments that are effective against mesothelioma. Primary treatment generally includes oxygen, to allow the parts of your lungs that still function properly to have a better chance of supplying adequate oxygen to your bloodstream. Antibiotics are used to treat secondary infections, and sometimes airway-dilating medicines, like those used for bronchitis or asthma, have proven useful.

This, however, only treats the symptoms. To treat the mesothelioma itself, the cancer must be removed or eliminated to the extent possible, and then lung functions must be restored. This isn't quite as bad as it sounds. Like all cancers, mesothelioma can be treated with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. New drugs and techniques to treat mesothelioma are cropping up every day.

Most mesothelioma is treated with a combination of the three approaches. The less metastasizing that has occurred, the more likely surgery will be your primary treatment. Before choosing a course of treatment, though, discuss all your options with your medical team. When you begin one route of treatment, you may be eliminating the options of others. But start treatment as quickly as you can. Early treatment has the best prognosis, with seventy-five percent of those having mesothelioma treated prior to metastazation living at least two more years (compared to forty percent after the cancer has spread).

Is Mesothelioma Curable?

Mesothelioma is not curable. Because the particles that have invaded your body are so very tiny, it's impossible to eradicate them all.

The best chance for a sufferer from mesothelioma is early, aggressive treatment. Pain control and a positive attitude will improve a patient's prognosis. If you have mesothelioma, your best course of action is to seek treatment immediately, and continue with all the daily activities you love as long as you can. Take prescribed and over the counter painkillers as your doctor recommends.

Other Things to Look For

Though lung mesotheliomas are the most likely, peritoneal mesothelioma sometimes appears as well. This is a mesothelioma where the particles have been ingested, and have caused damage to the peritoneal sac containing the internal organs in your abdomen. If you've been exposed to asbestos in the past and are having symptoms like abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting not ascribable to any other cause, you may have peritoneal mesothelioma. Other symptoms include herniation, abdominal fluid, and a mass in the abdomen, or constipation, diarrhea, or blood in the stool. Peritoneal mesothelioma is generally deadlier than that of the lungs. If you think you may have this condition, seek medical treatment immediately.

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