What Is Mesothelioma Cancer?
Mesothelioma is a devastating cancer that affects the tissue lining the lungs, the chest wall, the abdominal wall and other vital organs in the body. The only known, established cause of mesothelioma is asbestos.
People who worked with asbestos products or who were exposed second-hand often inhaled the airborne microscopic fibers, which stick in the tissue lining the lungs and other areas and can’t be expelled by the body. Decades later, these fibers can lead to the deadly asbestos cancer mesothelioma, as well as lung cancer, asbestosis, and other serious illnesses.
About 3,000 people are diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma each year in the United States. And the sad fact is that asbestos is still not banned in the U.S. and in many other countries around the world.
Prognosis for Mesothelioma
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Mesothelioma has a long latency period, with patients not experiencing symptoms until 15 to 60 years after they were exposed to the carcinogen asbestos. By the time most people are diagnosed, the aggressive cancer is already in an advanced stage.
For most, the average survival time is less than a year. For those who are diagnosed at an early stage, the life expectancy is longer, with a prognosis ranging from two to five years.
Although there is no cure for mesothelioma, there are steps patients can take to improve their outlook. These include:
Seeking expert medical treatment. Because mesothelioma is a rare cancer, it is important to work with a medical specialist who has experience treating this particular type of cancer.
Eating healthy. The American Cancer Society recommends a diet rich in plant foods and low in red meats and processed foods.
Holistic treatments. Many patients find that taking a “whole body” approach to fighting the disease helps. This may include yoga, meditation, acupuncture, etc.
Support groups. Talking with fellow patients and caregivers who truly understand what you are going through can be a big source of comfort and strength.
Learn more about your mesothelioma diagnosis.
Resources for Patients & Families
Although mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, you should know that you are not alone. The mesothelioma cancer community is extremely supportive, and there are medical professionals, caregivers, patients and support groups out there who can help you.
- Get your free copy of “A Patient’s Guide to Mesothelioma.”
- Connect with fellow mesothelioma patients and caregivers.
Asbestos was used for many decades in a wide variety of industrial, commercial and household products. These include products such as fireproofing materials, valves, pumps, gaskets, boilers, automotive brakes, textile products, electrical products, building materials and more.
Millions of Americans who worked with or in the vicinity of asbestos materials were at risk of exposure. Companies did not warn workers of the risk, and employers did not take proper prevention measures and safety precautions to protect them from inhaling dangerous asbestos fibers in the air. Anyone in an area where asbestos materials were being handled were at risk of being exposed.
Some of the most common occupations at risk include:
- Construction workers
- Factory workers
In addition to the workers themselves, family members may have been exposed to the tiny asbestos fibers that clung to uniforms, clothing, hair and skin. This is known as “take-home” asbestos.
At Belluck & Fox, our legal team has gathered extensive records about the asbestos occupations and companies that put workers and their families at risk. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, we will go back through your work or military service history to identify how you were exposed and who should be held responsible.
Facts & Information
After a mesothelioma diagnosis, the first thing many families do is research the facts and statistics about the disease. They want to know what caused it, what the treatment options are, and how they can get the help they need.
Some of the facts you should know include:
- The rate of mesothelioma cases is much higher among men than women (likely because the occupations that were most at risk employed more men).
- Mesothelioma is more commonly diagnosed in white and Hispanic/Latino people than in African Americans or Asian Americans.
- The average age for diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma is 69 years old.
- Many mesothelioma patients are veterans. Asbestos products were heavily used in all branches of the military, in particular the Navy, putting many service members and civilians at risk.
- Asbestos, the only known cause of mesothelioma, is still not banned in the United States. Even with the safety precautions required today, people remain at risk of exposure.
At Belluck & Fox, our knowledgeable mesothelioma lawyers have been helping patients and families cope with this devastating disease for more than two decades. We will take the time to explain to you what you can expect and go over your options for recovering compensation from those responsible for your disease.
- Use our mesothelioma glossary to understand common terms.
- Get the facts about mesothelioma.
Types of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma affects the mesothelium tissue membrane that lines some of the human body cavities and vital organs. The mesothelium tissue produces a lubricating fluid that allows the body’s organs to move easily within their respective body cavities. When cancer develops in this tissue, it is known as mesothelioma and is very painful.
When mesothelioma strikes, it affects one of the four areas that are lined with the mesothelium membrane:
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of the disease. It affects the pleura tissue that lines the lungs and the chest cavity.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second-most common type of the cancer, affecting the tissue that lines the abdominal cavity and the abdominal organs.
Pericardial mesothelioma is a rare form of the asbestos cancer. It affects the lining of the heart and often is the result of the cancer spreading from other areas.
Testicular mesothelioma, also known as mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis testis, affects the testicles. This is the rarest form of the disease, and not much is known about it.
Each type of mesothelioma has its own set of signs and symptoms. And treatment plans will be based on where in the body the cancer was found.
- Learn more about the types of mesothelioma.
- Learn more about cancer of the lining of the lung.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma symptoms vary depending on the type of mesothelioma a patient was diagnosed with. However, the most common symptoms associated with pleural mesothelioma include:
- Chest pain or tightness in the chest
- Dry, painful or chronic cough
- Fluid build-up in the lungs
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Unexplained weight loss
Unfortunately, mesothelioma symptoms can be mistaken for a range of other diseases, including less serious illnesses. That is why anyone who has a history of asbestos exposure should talk to their doctor at the first signs of respiratory problems.
Your doctor will want to perform imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans and MRIs. In order to make an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will need to perform a biopsy to remove a portion or all of the tumor.
Learn more about the symptoms of mesothelioma.
Stages of Mesothelioma
There are different systems for identifying the stages of mesothelioma. But the current standard is the Butchart System, which bases the stage designation on the extent of the primary tumor mass.
Stage 1: The cancer is found within the right or left pleura. It may also be found in the lung, pericardium, or diaphragm on the same side.
Stage 2: The cancer has invaded the chest wall or affects the esophagus, heart or pleura on both sides. Lymph nodes in the chest may also be affected.
Stage 3: The cancer has spread through the diaphragm into the lining of the abdominal cavity. In this stage, lymph nodes beyond those in the chest may also be affected.
Stage 4: Evidence indicates the cancer has spread, or metastasized, through the bloodstream to other organs in the body.
In addition to the Butchart System, the other staging systems being used to classify mesothelioma are the TNM System and the Brigham System.
Because it is rare and difficult to detect, mesothelioma is often diagnosed in the later stages, when treatment and life expectancy are limited.
Learn more about the stages of mesothelioma.
Treatment for Mesothelioma
Treatment for mesothelioma generally is considered palliative, aimed at making a patient comfortable and improving quality of life. Depending on the progression of the cancer at diagnosis and the patient’s general health, treatment options may include:
- Surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible
- Radiation therapy
- Holistic and alternative treatments
- Medicine to reduce the patent’s pain
Doctors and researchers in the mesothelioma community are always searching for better treatment options and ─ ultimately, we all hope ─ a cure for mesothelioma. Patients and families are encouraged to ask about clinical trials that may provide access to cutting-edge drugs and procedures that could improve your prognosis.
Learn more about mesothelioma treatment options.
Find out about the latest mesothelioma clinical trials.