Mesothelioma is an asbestos-related cancer that affects the thin membrane surrounding certain body organs, known as the “mesothelium”. Mesothelioma most commonly affects the lungs but can also affect the abdomen, heart, chest wall and testicles. Mesothelioma cancer can take 20 to 50 years to develop after exposure to asbestos which is usually related to occupation. Asbestos use has dropped dramatically in the U.S. but due to the time lag between exposure and cancer emergence, about 3,000 cases are diagnosed annually.

Because the cancer is rare, not every physician will have experience treating the disorder and each type of mesothelioma has a different set of mesothelioma symptoms. In order to ensure the best possible outcome, seeking assistance from a mesothelioma specialist is essential. In addition, the earlier treatment is started, the better the potential for a positive resolution. Mesothelioma specialists will treat the cancer using a combination of traditional methods, along with newer procedures and medications currently under development. They will also be knowledgeable about clinical trials that offer hope through use of the latest therapies.


Asbestos and mesothelioma


Asbestos is a thin, fiber-like material which was used in many industries as insulation. The fibers may have been inhaled or ingested to lodge in tissues and over long periods of time, result in cancerous tumors. Those most at risk, worked in asbestos-related industries such as shipbuilding, steel manufacturing, construction, automotive manufacturing, pipefitting and military veterans. Other people may also have experienced asbestos exposure, including the family members of those industry workers who may have transported asbestos “dust” into the home on contaminated clothing.

In most cases, exposure to asbestos was long-term but in some cases, a severe “acute” exposure may also have caused the cancer to develop. The latency period of over 20 years between time of exposure and cancer development, makes diagnosis more difficult.


Types of Mesothelioma


There are several types of mesothelioma, all of which were caused by asbestos exposure and each type may have a different set of symptoms due to location of the cancer. These types include:

  • Pleural Mesothelioma – mesothelioma of the lungs
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma – mesothelioma in the abdomen
  • Pericardial Mesothelioma – mesothelioma surrounding the heart
  • Testicular Mesothelioma – mesothelioma of the testicles


Mesothelioma Symptoms


Mesothelioma is named and treated according to the location of the cancer. Each type carries a different set of symptoms, which may initially be interpreted as another disorder as the cancer is so rare and takes a long time to develop.

Symptoms that may indicate mesothelioma and require investigation, particularly if they do not resolve include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough
  • Chest, abdominal or testicular pain
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Fluid retention in abdomen, chest, lungs or testicular area
  • Gastrointestinal disturbance including nausea, vomiting, bowel irregularity
  • Weight loss and fatigue


Specific Mesothelioma Symptoms


Pleural Mesothelioma – Cancer development in the mesothelioma of the lungs. This type accounts for about 75 percent of all cases of mesothelioma and is caused by asbestos fibers which were inhaled and deposited in the pleural mesothelium which surrounds the lungs.

  • Persistent cough, generally “dry”
  • Fluid development around the lungs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss


Peritoneal Mesothelioma – Cancer development in the mesothelioma of the abdomen. This type accounts for about 20 percent of all cases of mesothelioma and is caused by asbestos fibers which were inhaled and deposited in the peritoneal mesothelium which lines the abdomen.

  • Unexplained abdominal pain
  • Nausea and / or vomiting
  • Irregularity of the bowels
  • Fluid development in the abdomen or ascites
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Seizures


Pericardial Mesothelioma – Cancer development in the mesothelioma surrounding the heart. This type accounts for only about 5 percent of all cases of mesothelioma and is caused by asbestos fibers which were ingested or inhaled and then lodged in the pericardial mesothelium which surrounds the heart. Pericardial mesothelioma is rarely diagnosed while the patient is still living.

  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever


Testicular Mesothelioma – Cancer development in the mesothelioma surrounding the testicles. This type accounts for less than 1 percent of all cases of mesothelioma and is caused by asbestos fibers which were ingested or inhaled and then lodged in the testicular mesothelium. Testicular mesothelioma is difficult to diagnoses but is often easier to treat.

  • Redness of scrotum
  • Fluid collection in scrotum
  • Swollen testicle(s)
  • Pain in scrotum or testicles


Diagnosing Mesothelioma


Even though mesothelioma may take 20 or more years to develop, symptoms may seem to appear suddenly. As the latency time between exposure and cancer development is so long, the disease is difficult to identify. In most cases, after ruling out other disorders, imaging studies such as X-Ray, CT Scan and PET imaging will be needed. Specific blood tests may also identify certain proteins present in the blood and when present, a biopsy of the tumor may be performed.


Staging of Mesothelioma Cancer


The location of mesothelioma and type of cancer cells will help determine treatment options but the “stage” of cancer will have a great influence. The stage of cancer also identifies how advanced the cancer has become, what the patient prognosis may be and may determine how likely it is that treatment will be successful.

There are multiple types of staging systems to classify mesothelioma. The most common is the IMIG system which is used for pleural mesothelioma but it and other types of mesothelioma may be staged using other classification systems as well.

Cancer development may be classified into:

Stage 1 – Tumor is localized and there are no cancer cells in surrounding lymph nodes. Mesothelioma is rarely diagnosed at this early stage due to the latency of disease and likelihood that initial symptoms will be overlooked or confused with other disease states.

Stage 2 – Mesothelioma tumor(s) have not spread beyond local area but some lymph nodes contain cancer cells. Disease states caught at this stage are treatable by a number of options including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Stage 3 – Mesothelioma has spread beyond the initial area and more lymph nodes are affected with greater numbers of cancer cells present in greater numbers of lymph nodes. Aggressive surgery combined with other treatment may still be possible.

Stage 4 – Mesothelioma has spread to distant parts of the body and tumors may have developed on other organs including the liver, kidney, brain and others. This is the most advanced stage with the poorest prognosis including the possibility of organ failure and treatment options may be limited.


Mesothelioma Treatment


Treatment of mesothelioma depends largely on the location and stage of the mesothelioma cancer which will be determined during diagnosis. In early stages, the mesothelioma cancer is easier to treat with more success. This is why it is important to seed treatment through a mesothelioma specialists to ensure the best outcome. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery – may be used to remove tumor(s) and a surrounding area of healthy tissue. Often used with other treatments
  • Traditional chemotherapy – treatment with cancer-killing chemotherapy medications. Chosen based on tumor type, location and other specifics. Often used with other treatments.
  • Radiation – concentrated beams of energy such as x-rays used to kill tumor cells. Advanced techniques employed by mesothelioma specialists have increased the accuracy of tumor cell targeting. Often used with chemotherapy.
  • Newer treatments – Newly developed medications include those which target DNA of certain tumors or modulate immune activity, along with procedures such as photon therapy have shown promise and may be available as part of an advanced regimen or clinical trial.


Mesothelioma treatment costs


Like other cancers, mesothelioma is disabling and treatment carries a high price, both in medical costs, loss of productivity and sometimes, loss of life. It is well-known that asbestos exposure is the cause of mesothelioma and because of this knowledge, multiple lawsuits have been filed with success to hold related companies and industry members responsible for the disease.

In addition to multi-million dollar awards for some lawsuits, over $30 billion remains in a relief fund that has been set aside for victims of mesothelioma. Like mesothelioma symptoms, each case of the cancer is unique, and must be treated by a mesothelioma specialist. In order to qualify for treatment coverage, each case must also be evaluated individually by mesothelioma legal experts.