Some people aren’t familiar with a form of cancer called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer linked with exposure to asbestos, a fibrous material once used to insulate pipes and heating ducts that’s irritating to the lungs. Now that we recognize the health risks of exposure to asbestos, it’s no longer used in homes and businesses and efforts have been made to remove it from older buildings.
Unfortunately, it can a long time for the symptoms of mesothelioma to appear after exposure to this material. A person who develops mesothelioma may have been exposed to asbestos decades prior before coming down with the illness and the symptoms are non-specific. That’s why mesothelioma is rarely diagnosed in its early stages. What are the early symptoms of this deadly form of cancer?
Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma
What it mesothelioma? It is a type of cancer that affects the thin membrane that covers the lungs, heart or abdomen. It most commonly affects the membrane surrounding the lungs called the pleural sac or pleura. People who are exposed to asbestos fibers over a long period of time by breathing them in can develop inflammation and scarring of their pleural sac. This inflammation and scarring causes damage that can lead to mesothelioma decades later. It can take as long as fifty years after exposure for mesothelioma to develop.
Early symptoms of mesothelioma that involves the pleural sac around the lungs are often vague and may be mistaken for an infection. It’s not uncommon for people with mesothelioma to complain of a cough and have a fever or night sweats. Weight loss and fatigue are other common symptoms of this disease.
As the cancer progresses, it presses on the chest wall and symptoms of shortness of breath, chest pain, back pain, or hoarseness often develop. In more advanced cases, a mesothelioma sufferer can have swelling in their arms and neck and muscle weakness. As the cancer advances, the cough and shortness of breath typically become worse and sputum can become bloody.
When mesothelioma affects the sac surrounding the abdomen called the peritoneal sac, a less common occurrence, symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating and visible swelling along with constipation and weight loss.
Mesothelioma is Often Found at an Advanced Stage
One reason mesothelioma has such as poor prognosis is that it’s often diagnosed in its later stages. That’s because the symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to those of other lung problems such as bronchitis and pneumonia in the early stages. That’s why it’s important for a doctor be aware that a patient has been exposed to asbestos in the past so they will have a greater level of awareness.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Mesothelioma?
There are blood tests available. These tests check for certain biomarkers or factors in the blood that increase when a person has mesothelioma, although they aren’t accurate enough to make a definitive diagnosis. That’s why imaging studies and biopsy are the primary tools used to make the diagnosis.
The first test ordered is usually a chest x-ray. In mesothelioma, a doctor may see thickening of the pleural sac or fluid accumulation in the space between the chest wall and lungs on x-ray. Based on the results, a PET scan or CT scan will be ordered. Even though mesothelioma may be suspected based on results of the CT scan, a biopsy is still be needed for confirmation.
A biopsy involves taking a tissue sample and looking under the microscope for malignant cells. This can be done by thoracoscopy – making a small incision and inserting a camera into the chest cavity to remove a small bit of tissue to view under the microscope for abnormal cells. If enough cells can’t be obtained in this way, a surgeon may have to open up the chest cavity to get an adequate sample, a procedure known as a thoracotomy.
Staging is the Final Step
After the diagnosis is made, doctors will stage the cancer to see how far it’s progressed. This will determine the ultimate treatment. Unfortunately, mesothelioma still has a poor prognosis, but early diagnosis can help prolong survival with this rare form of cancer.
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Guest Post by: Joe Belluck is an independent cancer researcher. He contributes his research and findings on various natural health blogs in the hope that the circulation of information on the internet will help uncover a cure and to aid people that want to find out more about Mesothelioma.
Mayo Clinic. “Mesothelioma”