You might have heard about mesothelioma on television but most people have no idea what it actually is. If you don’t know what it is, how can you tell if you have it? Let’s take a look at what mesothelioma is and how you can tell if you may have this dreadful disease.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer. It is located in the mesothelium, which is the protective membrane that lines all of our body’s vital internal organs.
Three out of every four cases of mesothelioma start in the pleural mesothelium of the chest cavity. It can also start in the abdominal cavity and around the heart. No matter where the cancer originates, malignant cells from the protective lining can invade and start to damage tissues. The cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.
Unfortunately, most of the time when mesothelioma is diagnosed it is already in the advanced stages. This is an extremely deadly disease. The five-year survival rate is around 5% to 10%. Most of the patients diagnosed with mesothelioma end up dying due to respiratory failure or pneumonia. Some patients can also develop bowel obstructions when a tumor extends through their diaphragm. A smaller number of patients end up dying of cardiac complications because the tumor invades the tissue around the heart.
The good news is that mesothelioma is considered a rare form of cancer. About 3,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States every year.
What are the Causes of Mesothelioma?
Far and away the number one risk factor of mesothelioma is working with asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring group of minerals with thin microscopic fibers. It was once praised for its impressive versatility. It is heat resistant, strong, and has insulating properties. It has been used for everything from fireproof vests to commercial and home construction.
When the tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air, like what happens during manufacturing, they are at risk of being swallowed or inhaled. This is what can lead to serious health complications. In fact, almost 75% of mesothelioma cases are directly linked to asbestos exposure at the workplace.
Evidence also exists that people living with asbestos workers are also at a greater risk for developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related health problems. This is probably because the workers bring asbestos dust home on their clothes, hair, and other belongings. There have also been cases of mesothelioma found in people who live within a close proximity of asbestos mines.
There have been some mesothelioma cases reported in people without any known exposure to asbestos, but this is rare. The uncommon causes of mesothelioma include:
- Zeolites: Minerals chemically related to asbestos.
- Radiation: The American Cancer Society reports that a few published studies of mesotheliomas show that it developed following exposure to high doses of radiation.
- SV40 Virus: Laboratory animal studies have shown the possibility that the SV40 virus may increase the risk of mesothelioma.
- Genetics: There are experts who believe that some people can be predisposed genetically to mesothelioma.
What are Common Mesothelioma Symptoms?
A very important thing to remember is that mesothelioma symptoms do not usually appear until 20 to 50 years after the initial exposure to asbestos. So if you worked with asbestos years ago but have not had any symptoms, that does not mean that you are free and clear.
Similar to most forms of cancers, mesothelioma can have a wide spectrum of symptoms. Some of the symptoms are also shared with other illnesses and diseases. This makes it harder to detect. However, if you or a loved one have any of the following symptoms, it is always better to get checked.
When mesothelioma is in the lungs, the main symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Dry cough
When mesothelioma is in the abdomen, the most common symptoms will include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swelling and pain in the abdomen
- Blood clotting
- Bowel obstruction
If the cancer has already spread throughout the body, symptoms may include:
- Low blood sugar
- Hoarse throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swelling of the neck or face
As we said before, many diseases and illnesses share these symptoms. It is very important that when they are present you see a doctor so he or she can diagnose what is causing them.
Why is Mesothelioma Commonly Undetected?
Even though mesothelioma is a severe and deadly disease, the symptoms are generally very mild. How often do you or your doctor think that a cough and fever is being caused by cancer? Most of the time these symptoms are attributed to something simple, like a common cold.
It is usually not until the symptoms persist or intensify that doctors start to put the pieces together. When cancer is suspected, an extensive screening process is started which could take months. This is a long time to wait as the cancer is present and possibly spreading. There are even some forms of mesothelioma that are very rare and usually never diagnosed until the patient has passed away and there is an autopsy. As we said, mesothelioma is a very serious disease.
What Should You Do?
If you know that you or a loved one has had exposure to asbestos at any point in your lives, you should take the symptoms mentioned above very seriously. Let your doctor know your symptoms and the reason that you believe you are at risk for mesothelioma. Make sure that they consider cancer as a possibility, even if they express to you that they believe the chances are extremely unlikely. If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, you are probably entitled to compensation. You should contact a lawyer for assistance.
Mesothelioma is extremely serious. It is important to understand the risk factors and symptoms so if you do have it you can ensure a swift diagnosis. After reading this article, you should have a better understanding of what you can and should do if you have been exposed to asbestos and have any of the common symptoms.
Featured photo credit: Infobrandz via Infobrandz.com