January 19, 2016

Mesothelioma – What is it?

Posted Wed. Jan. 6, 2016 by Cara T. – Mesothelioma Center

For many people, the only time they’ve heard of mesothelioma is from pushy TV commercials that lack context. What many people don’t realize is that every year 3,000 people are diagnosed with the aggressive cancer. That’s 3,000 people whose lives have changed forever.

What Is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive, asbestos-related cancer. It is primarily caused by a prolonged history of asbestos exposure. Often, this type of exposure results from working in certain asbestos-heavy environments such as shipyards, auto repair shops, factories, old houses, schools and public buildings.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been directly linked to a variety of potentially lethal conditions including mesothelioma. The deadly mineral was previously mined and used in a multitude of products for its high heat resistance. This made it popular in fireproofing, insulation and construction. Despite the numerous health conditions it contributes to, asbestos is not yet banned in the U.S.

Types of Mesothelioma

There are four main types of mesothelioma: Pleural, Peritoneal, Pericardial and Testicular. Each is named after the area of the body where the cancer initially formed.

The most common type of mesothelioma affects the pleura, which is the lining of the lungs. It overwhelmingly makes up most mesothelioma cases. The second most prevalent type of mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, forms in the peritoneum, which is the membrane lining of the abdominal cavity.

Types of Mesothelioma

Diagnosing Mesothelioma

The process for diagnosing mesothelioma is often complicated, but most follow a three-step process:

  • Symptoms Begin to Show: There is a 20 to 50 year latency period between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma diagnosis; many times the patient will not see any symptoms until decades after asbestos exposure.
  • Speaking with Primary Care Physician: When you or your loved one notices any possible symptoms, it is important that you speak with your doctor immediately. If cancer is suspected, your physician can refer you to an oncologist.
  • Diagnosis: An oncologist will likely order a chest x-ray. A better diagnostic tool would be a CT scan of the chest, which can identify if there are any pleural concerns. To make a final confirmation, a biopsy is required to confirm the presence of cancer.

At this point, it may become necessary to seek a second opinion or to visit a mesothelioma specialist if you have in fact been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

While considered rare, mesothelioma is an extremely difficult cancer to treat, leading to a scary prognosis and an even grimmer survival rate.

As with most cancers, early diagnosis makes a huge difference when it comes to available treatment options and the patient’s survival rate. Unfortunately, most mesothelioma cases are not caught early. In fact, many people with mesothelioma are initially misdiagnosed with a less serious disease or another cancer.

Mesothelioma shares several symptoms with other conditions such as pneumonia and lung disease. Because of this symptom overlap, patients may not get the right treatment early, which results in fewer treatment options.

The best way to limit the chances of misdiagnosis is to seek a second opinion. A mesothelioma specialist will be able to confirm or deny a diagnosis, which could ultimately save your life. Another essential way to lower misdiagnosis rates: Raise mesothelioma awareness.

Far too many individuals have never heard of mesothelioma or worse, only know of it from daytime TV commercials. This lack of understanding can lead to people not seeking help when they show initial symptoms.

Cara joined The Mesothelioma Center as Social Media Specialist in July 2015 to continue her mission of making a difference in the world. Every day, Cara speaks with survivors, caregivers and their loved ones in the online mesothelioma community to answer questions and offer emotional support. If you have a story idea for Cara or you’d like to learn more about mesothelioma, please email her at ctompot@asbestos.com.