Mesothelioma is a rare type of lung cancer. The main cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos fibers. There is a long time gap, sometimes even up to 30 years, between exposure to asbestos and the start of the disease. It is also very difficult to diagnose this disease because the symptoms are very similar to other benign diseases like pneumonia.
Mesothelioma is a disease that affects the mesothelium or lining that forms a protective layer around the abdomen, lungs, heart and some few other parts of the body. The mesothelium cells divide rapidly during this disease. Also these cells have longer life spans and overgrow. This abnormal development of mesothelium cells is caused due to exposure to asbestos fibers. People who have worked in asbestos industries or lived around asbestos industries and their families are more prone to get this disease. After sometime, this may even affect the other parts of the body.
There are three main types of mesothelioma. It is called as pleural when it affects the lungs, peritoneal when it affects the abdomen and pericardial when it affects the heart. Around 75 % of mesothelioma cases are pleural and 20% are peritoneal or pericardial. There are also some other rare types of mesothelioma that affect the remaining 5%. All these statistics pertain only to the documented cases. There are thousands of cases that go undocumented or undiagnosed all around the world.
Among the various types of cancer, mesothelioma accounts for only a small percentage. However, among the various types of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma accounts for nearly three-fourth of the documented cases. In pleural mesothelioma, fluid gets built up between the chest and the mesothelium lining.
The symptoms of this disease include panting, shortness of breath, fever, loss of weight, coughing up blood and breathing difficulties. Patients of pleural mesothelioma face acute chest pain. Since the symptoms of this disease are similar to pneumonia, it is often confused with this disease. The diagnosis is also difficult. There is no known cure for pleural mesothelioma. There are two types of pleural mesothelioma – cancerous and non-cancerous. When it is cancerous, it is called as a malignant form and when it is non-cancerous, it is called as a benign form.
The latency period of mesothelioma is around 20 to 50 years. This makes it very difficult for many people to link the disease to asbestos exposure. They might have changed many jobs by this time and may not consider their disease as an occupational type of disease.
Pleural mesothelioma is caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. These fibers enter the lungs through the nose or mouth and they settle in the lungs. Then, they travel through the tissues. Since they are light and invisible, they become easily airborne and inhalable. When the asbestos fibers settle in the mesothelium lining, the mesothelium cells start showing abnormal behavior, thereby leading to mesothelioma. In this disease, tumors are formed in lungs and mesothelium and this may also spread to other parts of the body too.
Since they are difficult to detect, they might have caused maximum havoc by the time they are detected. Mostly, when mesothelioma is detected, the patients are in the final stages of cancer with only a few months or years left. Sometimes, not even that. Mesothelioma is a terrible killer disease. Proper tests and efforts must be taken by the medical fraternity to detect the disease as soon as possible.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma is a very rare disease. Around 10-20 % of the documented mesothelioma cases are diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma. This type of mesothelioma affects the abdomen of the patient. The mesothelium cells of the abdomen behave abnormally in this disease. This disease is also caused by the oral inhalation of asbestos fibers. The fibers travel through the entire digestive tract and settle in some part of the digestive systems. The mesothelium lining in that part starts dividing rapidly and the cells also have longer life spans. This causes tumors in the abdomen and this may also spread to other parts of the body. The main symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, fever, chest pain, loss of weight and breaking difficulties. Loose motions or constipation, a swollen stomach and chunks of tissues in the abdominal area are classic signs of peritoneal mesothelioma. The disease is diagnosed in several ways using x-rays, IT scans, MRI, PET, Laparoscopy, Laparotomy, Thoracotomy and so on. The main risk factor for contracting this disease is exposure to asbestos fibers, and asbestos dust. However some of the following factors also increase the risk of contracting this disease:
The most rare form of mesothelioma is the pericardial mesothelioma; it affects the mesothelium linings of the heart. The main symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma are chest pain, breathing difficulties, fever, palpitations, tiredness and cough. Like all other types of mesothelioma, there is no cure for this type also. The only thing that doctors can do is to reduce the pain and discomfort of the symptoms and help the patients have a comfortable and peaceful death.
The pericardial lining of the heart is removed to reduce the symptoms. The heart is the most fragile part of the body. It is covered with an even fragile lining called pericardium. That is why this disease is called as pericardial mesothelioma as it affects the pericardium. The earliest symptoms are tiredness, chest pains, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties and persistent cough. Since these signs are common to other heart problems, it is difficult to diagnose this disease. Slowly, the heart lining starts thickening and fluids start filling the heart. It may also spread to other organs of the body.
In the later stages of pericardial mesothelioma, the patient finds it very difficult to consume any food or liquids. The lungs stop functioning gradually and the obstruction in intestines becomes more prominent. The heart condition worsens and the patient may be affected by a stroke or heart attack. Death becomes the solution and salvation that the mesothelioma patients crave for. The persons most likely to get this disease are those who face constant exposure to the risk factors like
Not only the above groups of people are having a high chance of contracting the disease but also their families run a risk of contracting this disease. The workers when they return home carry the asbestos dust and asbestos fibers in their clothing and their families may be exposed to the disease. The workers should take the following precautionary measures: