What is mesothelioma?
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Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelial cells which are cells that make up the lining of most of the body’s organs.
There are two main types of mesothelioma which are differentiated by where the cancer develops. Pleural mesothelioma is where cancer develops in the tissue which cover the lungs, and peritoneal mesothelioma is where it develops in the lining of the abdomen.
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Mesothelioma and asbestos
Though mesothelioma is one of the rarer cancers, those who are diagnosed with it have often been exposed to asbestos during their life. It is estimated that in the UK, 9 out of 10 men who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma have been exposed to the substance, and 8 out of ten women have.
The tiny fibres that make up asbestos are inhaled when an individual comes in to contact with the substance. These fibres then imbed themselves into the lining of the lungs (the pleura). This irritation can cause mutations in the genes which then causes cancer to grow.
Symptoms of mesothelioma
Common symptoms of mesothelioma include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Painful coughing fits
- Pain around the ribs
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lumps around the chest
- Pain in the lower back
- Fevers and sweats
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, then you should visit your GP as soon as possible who will perform tests to help reach a diagnosis. If you have been exposed to asbestos during your life, it is imperative that you mention this to your doctor on your first visit.
You should note that like with anything, symptoms will vary from person to person, which includes their severity. Most people who have mesothelioma will have at least some of the symptoms above, but even if you just have one or two, it’s always better to talk to your GP.
Once an individual is diagnosed with mesothelioma, a specialist will discuss the treatment options and work out which is best for each patient. Some options may not be applicable to some people for various reasons. The main treatment methods are:
- Surgery – surgery is normally only an option if mesothelioma is in its early stages. During the procedure, cancerous tumours which have grown are removed. When this is done, sometimes the entire cancer can be removed but if not, the progression is slowed down. Sometimes, in more advanced cases, surgeons will remove the whole lung which can help significantly to alleviate symptoms.
- Chemotherapy – in cases where surgery isn’t an option, chemotherapy will be suggested to try and shrink the tumours and slow down their progress. Chemotherapy is often used in conjunction with surgery, to try and make it easier to remove the tumours by shrinking them beforehand.
- Radiotherapy – radiotherapy is mainly used for people who have pleural mesothelioma as it can help to alleviate symptoms. It is also used to prevent metastasis after surgery.
Mesothelioma life expectancy
As with any form of cancer, the prognosis will depend on how far the mesothelioma had spread and how severely the person is affected. Unfortunately, mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer and is often only detected when the cancer is in its advanced stages.
The typical life expectancy after being diagnosed with mesothelioma is 1-2 years, but it is important to stress that everyone and every case of cancer is different. In addition, there are new treatments being researched all the time and as with anything, there are always exceptions where patients outlive their prognosis.
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