Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that occurs and grows in the linings of some specific organs of the body, but it most commonly affects the lungs. Apart from that, some other organs affected by this cancer are the heart and abdomen. It is an aggressive form of cancer and most often deadly. While treatments are available to make cancer dormant or slow its spread, there is no cure available to date.
Types of Mesothelioma
For the most part, mesothelioma is divided into different types based on the organs and parts of the body it affects. The types of mesothelioma are:
Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma
For the most part, when people are diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, the tissue lining around their lungs is affected. This lining is known as pleura, and hence, this type of cancer is known as malignant pleural mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma causes the lining around the chest caving and lungs to thicken, which can hinder the normal movement of the lungs. As a result, fluid can accumulate in the chest, which can cause cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, etc.
An x-ray can reveal the condition of the lungs and whether or not if there is fluid accumulated in the chest. However, the doctors don’t immediately narrow it down to mesothelioma, and they cross off other conditions such as lung infection, inflammation, and pneumonia off the list. This can often delay the patient’s diagnosis. However, once detected, your doctor can recommend various mesothelioma treatment options available, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.
Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma
While lungs are the most commonly affected organs, this cancer can also develop in the lining of the abdomen. This type of cancer is known as peritoneal mesothelioma. Many doctors believe that this happens when a person ingests asbestos fibers and they get trapped in their peritoneum.
Apart from that, sometimes pleural mesothelioma also spreads from the lungs towards the abdomen.
Cell Types of Mesothelioma
Malignant mesothelioma is also determined according to cell type. It has further three primary types.
The epithelial cells have a sheet-like form and account for more than 50% of all mesothelioma diagnosis. These cell types respond to treatments better as compared to other cell types.
The sarcomatoid cells have a spindly appearance, and it comprises up to 20% of mesothelioma. These types of cells are aggressive, and they spread and grow rather quickly.
The biphasic type is a mixture of epithelial and sarcomatoid. It comprises up to 30%-40% of all mesothelioma. Its aggressiveness and speed of spread depend upon the ratio of sarcomatoid cells to epithelial cells.
Causes of Mesothelioma
Asbestos exposure happens to be the main cause of mesothelioma. Almost 8 out of 10 people diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos at some point in their lives. When a person is exposed to asbestos for a long period, they have an increased risk of inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers which can cause mesothelioma along with several other diseases.
What Makes Mesothelioma so Rare?
1. Low exposure to asbestos
The main reason why mesothelioma cases are so rare is because of the primary exposure and risk factors. Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure, and not many people are exposed to this toxic mineral unless they work or live in a specific environment. For this reason, most cases develop in industrial workers, which include construction site workers, factory workers, ship dock workers, etc. As compared to people who work in offices, field workers are at a higher risk of asbestos exposure. Similarly, a person who lives in an old and run-down house where the construction material contains asbestos is at a higher risk of exposure than anyone else.
2. State laws
Mesothelioma cases have drastically decreased because the federal and state authorities have regulated asbestos usage, handling, and mining. As of now, asbestos mining is no longer permissible in the United States. Furthermore, the state is also banning products that contain asbestos intending to reduce exposure and other risks caused by this toxic material.
3. Latency period
Another major reason why mesothelioma is so rarely reported is due to cancer’s latency period. It means that the time of exposure and the time when the symptoms of cancer start appearing are set apart by years. On average, the disease has a latency period that ranges between 13-70 years after the person inhales or ingests asbestos. Any symptoms would rarely start to occur before a decade or two. Therefore, many people who have been exposed to asbestos may pass away before showing cancer symptoms.
How to Know If You Have Mesothelioma
It is a challenge to detect mesothelioma because the symptoms are so similar to other common diagnoses that it is most often overlooked by doctors. For example, when pleural mesothelioma affects the linings of the lungs, the symptoms that the patients develop are similar to other respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, chest infection, etc. Common symptoms include breathing difficulties, cough, and chest pain.
However, if you are aware of your previous work environments, suspect that you have been knowingly or unknowingly exposed to asbestos, and have these symptoms, contact a doctor immediately. Let them know that you have a history of asbestos exposure even if your symptoms have yet to manifest. Because if these symptoms occur and worsen over time, it means that your cancer has progressed significantly and is advancing with every passing day. If cancer gets too bad, it will become more expensive and more difficult to treat mesothelioma.
Therefore, your best chance at early detection is to undergo yearly check-ups and screenings. Moreover, check your family’s medical history to determine if any of them had mesothelioma because genetic predisposition to develop this cancer will increase the risks tenfold.
Mesothelioma is a devastating and deadly cancer that has no cure. However, if the cancer is detected early on, some treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy can alleviate the symptoms of the illness. But consider that it is difficult to detect cancer before it gets worse because there are no unique and distinct symptoms. Moreover, the latency period makes it hard to determine whether or not you have developed the condition. This aspect makes the reports even rarer.