Malignant mesothelioma is a deadly and rare form of cancer that gets its name from the fact that it affects the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a protective layer of tissue that covers the vital organs of the body. The two major types of mesothelioma are pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma. The pleura is the mesothelium around the lungs, and the peritoneum is the mesothelium around the abdominal organs. Most cases are of the pleural type.
Mesothelioma is sometimes caused by radiation exposure or unknown factors, but the vast majority of cases are caused by asbestos exposure. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they become lodged in the lungs. After one to five decades, the fibers cause the cells of the mesothelium to grow and reproduce abnormally.
Asbestos is a natural material that was been mined extensively from the late 1800s to the mid-20th century. In some parts of the world, it continues to be extracted and used. Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that performs exceptionally well against heat. Therefore, it became used as a source of insulation. It was also used as electrical insulation and as a component of many building materials, including tiles and adhesives.
Symptoms of mesothelioma do not usually become apparent until 10 to 50 years after asbestos exposure. When symptoms do appear, the disease is often already in its late stages. This adds to the deadly nature of the disease.
Symptoms of malignant mesothelioma differ in each of the two major types. Pleural mesothelioma symptoms include the following:
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are as follows:
In later stages of Mesothelioma, symptoms may become drastically worse as the disease spreads to other parts of the body. These symptoms may include jaundice, pulmonary embolism and pleural effusion, which occurs when fluid fills the space between the pleura and the lungs.
Mesothelioma is diagnosed through a combination of methods. After a doctor reviews a patient's medical history and work history, instances of exposure to asbestos are reviewed. Standard X-rays and a physical examination are the next methods of diagnosis. Advanced methods of diagnosis include thoracoscopy/peritoneoscopy, biopsy of lung or abdominal tissue and blood tests.
Mesothelioma may be treated by surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or through one of two relatively new treatments: immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy. Although the prognosis for mesothelioma is not good, a combination of treatments can be effective in extending a patient's life.
In early-stage mesothelioma, surgery is often used to remove the tumors and surrounding tissue that may also be affected. Surgery does not usually remove all of the cancerous cells, but it makes treatment through chemotherapy and radiation therapy more effective.
One new form of treatment for mesothelioma is immunotherapy. This is a stimulation of the body's immune system to fight the cancerous cells. Another new form of treatment is photodynamic therapy. Photodynamic therapy uses specially formulated drugs that are sensitive to certain wavelengths of light. This treatment reduces damage to healthy cells.
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