As one of the most severe forms of cancer, mesothelioma affects up to 3,000 Americans each years. This complex disease develops in three main histologic types (biphasic, epithelial and sarcomatoid) and affects the lining of the chest, heart, or abdomen. The first signs of mesothelioma appear 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. This form of cancer is difficult to diagnose because of the increased latency period.
Researchers have shown that mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. This material was used in approximately 733,000 public and commercial buildings due to its increased durability and resistance to heat. Asbestos can be found in roofing, insulation and construction materials. This naturally-occurring mineral has many tiny fibers that enter the body when inhaled.
Individuals who worked in asbestos mines, construction industries, shipyards, and power plants present an increased risk of mesothelioma. Even those who have only been around them are often affected by this rare form of cancer because asbestos fibers can be carried on clothes. This material can be found in commercial buildings, homes, schools, and offices. When asbestos fibers are disturbed, they enter the air. Asbestos exposure may cause chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is very difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to those given by less serious conditions such as flu, viral pneumonia, heart disease, and bronchitis. Weight loss is one of the main signs indicating this rare form of cancer. Individuals who suffer from mesothelioma can lose up to 10 percent of their total body weight within six months. However, weight loss can be also caused by liver disease, hyperthyroidism and many other noncancerous disorders.
Persistent cough, hemoptysis (coughing up blood), severe chest pain, night sweats, and dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing) represent the most common symptoms of mesothelioma. People affected by this form of cancer may also present pleural effusion, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and fever. Pleural mesothelioma causes weakness, congestive heart failure, persistent cough, and hoarseness.
The main signs of peritoneal mesothelioma include pain in the abdomen, anemia, bowel obstruction, and hypercoagulability. Pericardial mesothelioma is the rarest form of asbestos cancer. Its symptoms are similar to those induced by pleural mesothelioma and include extreme fatigue, chest pain, and arrhythmia.
It is important for those who have been exposed to asbestos to undergo regular imaging and diagnostic tests to detect any signs of mesothelioma. If the patient has already been diagnosed with this form of cancer, the doctor will perform a number of tests to find out if the malignant cells have affected other parts of the body. When the cancer spreads, the patient may present laryngeal nerve palsy, dysphagia, and Horner's syndrome.
If you experience any of these symptoms and you have any past asbestos exposure, contact a doctor immediately. A health care professional can help you identify the first signs of mesothelioma and increase your life expectancy.