What Is Mesothelioma: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare kind of cancer which originates from the mesothelial cells. Mesothelioma forms 1% of all cancers. Mesothelium is a thin layered tissue which lines almost every major internal organ like the pleura of lungs, pericardium surrounding heart, and abdominal peritoneum. The membranous mesothelium is formed of mesothelial cells. Mesothelioma is a lethal cancer having extremely poor prognosis. Pleural mesothelioma is the most commonly occurring form of this disease. Exposure to asbestos is the main underlying cause of mesothelioma in majority of patients. People who remain exposed to asbestos for prolonged durations are likely to get this cancer. Since Mesothelioma develops slowly and takes anywhere between 20 to 50 years to develop, most patients of Mesothelioma belong to the elderly age group.

What is Mesothelioma?

What Causes Mesothelioma?

Prolonged exposure to asbestos mainly causes Mesothelioma. Ingestion and inhaling of microscopic fibers of asbestos is believed to trigger the development of Mesothelioma. When these particles enter into the lungs or the abdomen, they tend to produce inflammatory changes which eventually can result in the development of cancerous tumor. The particles can also travel to the lymph nodes and pericardium of heart. Asbestos causes DNA damage which in turn triggers mutation and cell damage leading to development of mesothelioma tumor. Mesothelioma usually develops after a long latency period. The mesothelioma tumor can take at least 20 to 50 years to develop after one gets exposed to asbestos for long duration. Apart from asbestos, exposure to asbestos-like minerals, such as erionite, can also cause Mesothelioma. Simian virus 40 is also suspected to trigger this rare kind of cancer that is Mesothelioma. Smokers and people who work in asbestos factories face a greater risk of developing this Mesothelioma, although tobacco individually may not be causing its development. Even radiation exposure is believed to cause mesothelioma. This cancer affects men more than women. Mesothelioma is more prevalent in Caucasians and Hispanics than in Asians and Africans. These were some of the main causes of Mesothelioma.

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

The symptoms of mesothelioma do not appear suddenly, but rather progress slowly over time. Most patients experience the symptoms of mesothelioma only in the advanced stage of this cancer. Often early signs and symptoms of mesothelioma are either ignored or misdiagnosed as symptoms of some other common conditions. The progressive symptoms of mesothelioma depend on the organ involved. Pleural mesothelioma is accompanied by symptoms like pleural effusion, fever, night sweats, breathlessness, chest pain, hoarseness of voice, extreme fatigue, weight loss, coughing, sneezing, and presence of lumps underneath the skin in the chest area. Progressive signs and symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal swelling and pain, loss of appetite, anaemia, abnormal weight loss and ascites. The symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma are pericardial effusion, chest pain, irregular heartbeats, night sweats, heart murmur and breathlessness.

How is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

For diagnosing Mesothelioma, the doctor would first enquire about the patient’s history of exposure to asbestos. Then fine needle aspiration of fluid from pleura or peritoneum is done. Laparoscopy and thoracoscopy may need to be performed to diagnose Mesothelioma. Also, sonography of the abdomen and other imaging tests like CT scan, MRI, and X-ray of the abdomen and chest may also need to be conducted to diagnose Mesothelioma.

How is Mesothelioma Treated?

Treatment of mesothelioma depends on factors like the stage and location of the disease. Mesothelioma treatment also depends on whether the cancer has spread to the close by organs, or is localized. Mesothelioma is mostly treated through chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. If the tumor is detected in its early stage and has not spread to distant organs, surgery is the best treatment option in such a situation of Mesothelioma. During the surgery, the whole Mesothelioma tumor, or as much of it as possible is removed. Along with the tumor, adjacent lymph nodes can also be removed to stop the spread of the cancer cells of mesothelioma. Chemotherapy is often used together with surgery for treating mesothelioma. The drugs used in this treatment help to kill the cancer cells. Generally, a part of mesothelioma tumor or cells which have still been left behind after the surgery are killed with chemotherapy. Radiation before the surgery helps to shrink the mesothelioma tumor and makes it easier for the doctor to remove it during surgery.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 10, 2021

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