Mesothelioma - What is it?
The National Cancer Institute states that: "Malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the sac lining the chest (the pleura), the lining of the abdominal cavity (the peritoneum) or the lining around the heart (the pericardium)."
The early symptoms of mesothelioma are generally non-specific, and may lead to a delay in diagnosis. Sometimes resembling viral pneumonia, pleural mesothelioma patients may present with shortness of breath, chest pain and/or persistent cough; some patients show no symptoms at all. A chest x-ray may show a build-up of fluid or pleural effusion (discussed below). The right lung is affected 60% of the time, with involvement of both lungs being seen in approximately 5% of patients at the time of diagnosis. Less common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include fever, night sweats and weight loss. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma may include pain or swelling in the abdomen due to a build-up of fluid, nausea, weight loss, bowel obstruction, anemia or swelling of the feet.
Diagnosis of pleural effusion is usually accomplished with a simple chest x-ray, although CT scans or ultrasound may also be used. A special x-ray technique, called a lateral decubitus film, may be used to detect smaller effusions or to enable the physician to estimate of the amount of fluid present. If the underlying cause of the effusion is readily apparent (such as in the case of severe congestive heart failure), sampling of the fluid may not be necessary, however, because pleural effusion may be symptomatic of a number of disease processes from benign to malignant, a fluid sample is generally taken. Diagnostic thoracentesis, in which cells are extracted from the pleural cavity, is commonly done when the possibility of mesothelioma exists, however, in up to 85% of cases, the fluid tests negative or inconclusive even though cancer is present. It is ultimately a needle biopsy of the pleura (lining of the lung) or an open surgical biopsy which confirms a mesothelioma diagnosis.
For those diagnosed with mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer of the lining of the lung (pleura) or the lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum), finding a credible source of information about the disease itself and the medical options available, is of the highest priority. After years of research and synthesis of information, we have assembled a web site and packet for patients and their loved ones. We hope you find this web site helpful.
A mesothelioma diagnosis can be overwhelming, and we are here to answer any questions you might have, and to help you take the steps necessary to find the options that are best suited to your individual needs.
Our staff is experienced and knowledgeable in dealing with mesothelioma patients and their family members, and the service we provide is always with appreciation for the difficult time you are facing. Although you have found us on the Internet, rest assured there are real people here to help. Please feel free to contact us at any time at 1-877-FOR-MESO (367-6376)
How long does it take after exposure for the disease to show up?
People exposed in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s are now being diagnosed with mesothelioma because of the long latency period of asbestos disease.
Is there any promising research or are there promising drugs for mesothelioma?
Research is being conducted at various cancer centers all over the United States as well as by pharmaceutical companies. To find more about these studies, click on Clinical Trials. To read abstracts of the latest journal articles on mesothelioma research and to access these articles, click on Medical Journal Articles; or Mesothelioma News for news articles. A recent study of Alimta showed patients living much longer with Alitma than other chemotherapy drugs.
Where can I find information on living with mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma Aid is a good website for resource for families dealing with mesothelioma. It includes advice and referrals to other resources for coping with cancer, caregiving, financial challenges, and support groups. Alternatively, contact us here at Mesothelioma Web for help finding resouces for living with this disease.
Resources for people with mesothelioma
There are numerous cancer web sites, some specific to mesothelioma. Because they are often difficult to locate, we have listed some relevant medical sites under Leading Cancer Links. We are always on the lookout for more so check our site often.
Pleural effusion caused by heart failure or infection can usually be resolved by directing treatment at the cause, however, when testing has realized no diagnosis, and fluid continues to build or recur, doctors may recommend chest tube drainage and chemical pleurodesis. Chemical pleurodesis is a technique in which a sclerosing agent is used to abrade the pleural surfaces producing an adhesion between the parietal and visceral pleurae. This will prevent further effusion by eliminating the pleural space. Talc appears to be the most effective agent for pleurodesis, with a success rate of nearly 95%. It is highly effective when administered by either poudrage or slurry. Poudrage is the most widely used method of instilling talc into the pleural space. Before spraying the talc, the medical team removes all pleural fluid to completely collapse the lung. After the talc is administered, they inspect the pleural cavity to be sure the talc has been evenly distributed over the pleural surface. Some doctors prefer to use talc mixed with saline solution which forms a wet slurry that can roll around the pleural cavity.