After a mesothelioma diagnosis, most patients have a lot of question about the disease. They also have questions about asbestos and how it causes mesothelioma. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about mesothelioma.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by small fibers released from asbestos that enter the body either by ingesting or inhaling them. After these fibers are ingested, they become trapped in organ tissue of the chest, abdomen or heart and are impossible to expel naturally. Cellular changes from the asbestos fibers include genetic damage, scarring, and inflammation that can lead to cancer.
How is mesothelioma diagnosed?
Most often, doctors identify mesothelioma because of other problems the disease causes, such as fluid buildup in the chest (pleural effusions). During an examination, doctors review genetics and medical history to figure out if more tests should be ordered and deciphered by specialists. A history of asbestos exposure is a huge indicator for doctors to look for signs of mesothelioma specifically.
After suspecting mesothelioma, lab tests will be ordered, including biopsies—samples of tissue taken from the tumor site. Doctors then study these tissues under a microscope to determine the exact type of mesothelioma.
Do doctors ever misdiagnose mesothelioma?
It is highly possible, as only specialists are qualified to diagnose mesothelioma patients. Of the several mesothelioma cell types, some resemble lung cancer strongly, while others in women look like ovarian cancer. If you or a loved one think you may have been exposed to asbestos, talk with your doctor to get specialist attention, since general prognosis drops the longer it takes to make an accurate diagnosis.
Can smoking cause mesothelioma or increase my chances of getting mesothelioma?
Smoking is never the cause of mesothelioma, though it can highly increase the chances of complications or risks of developing other serious diseases. Studies show that mesothelioma patients who are smokers tend to have a better outcome after quitting smoking than those who don’t quit.
Is mesothelioma the same as lung cancer?
No, they are two separate forms of cancer. When looking at the cell formations during tests, scans, and under microscopes, two primary distinctions allow a proper diagnosis. Lung cancer typically grows with defined boundaries in individual masses. Mesothelioma originally starts as small nodule tumors scattered in the mesothelial lining. Eventually, these nodules grow together to form a sheath-like tumor surrounding the lung or other organs.
What is the typical age of getting diagnosed with mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is often diagnosed 10 to 50 years after initial exposure. Commonly, patients aren’t diagnosed until around or after the age of 65. Before this age, women are more likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, but men are much more likely to suffer from mesothelioma in general.
Can mesothelioma be prevented?
The best way to prevent mesothelioma is to avoid exposure to asbestos. By taking proper safety precautions in work settings where asbestos is present, the risk of ingesting asbestos fibers is significantly decreased and possibly negated. If you are unsure about proper safety precautions, speak with employers about safety standards, training, and the mandatory warning signs they’ve posted.
What jobs are commonly exposed to asbestos?
In the United States, workers from a wide range of trades and industries are unknowingly exposed to asbestos. Safety standards and regulations require industries and businesses to post warning signs and provide proper safety training in jobs that involve asbestos or materials including asbestos.
Common occupations exposed to asbestos include:
- U.S. Navy Veterans
- Oil refinery workers
- Automobile mechanics
- Construction workers
- Railroad workers
What are common symptoms of mesothelioma?
Early warning signs of mesothelioma may include:
- A cough that doesn’t go away
- Shortness of breath
- Blood in mucus coughed up from the lungs
- Swelling of the face or neck veins
- Trouble breathing or swallowing
- Unexplained loss of appetite or weight loss
What should I do if I think I have mesothelioma?
Schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. After reviewing your genetic history, possible risk of exposure to asbestos, and symptoms, your doctor will order tests to determine if a specialist should be consulted.
What treatment options are available for mesothelioma?
Options for mesothelioma treatment based on specialist recommendations could include:
- Chemotherapy—Anti-cancer drugs that kill mesothelioma cells.
- Radiation therapy—High-energy rays that scramble mesothelioma cells’ DNA and prevent them from multiplying.
- Surgery—Physically removing tumors through open surgery.
- Palliative treatments—Improving patient quality of life by easing symptoms.
Where can I find out about clinical trials?
Cancer research around the world has been making incredible advances to help diagnose it earlier and also find ways to provide more focused and effective treatments. Research into preventing cancer from forming in the first place is also making huge advancements.
New treatment options for chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and other drugs are being studied in combinations and on their own to try to make treatments more effective and produce fewer side effects. While some of these trial studies are not yet completed or approved by the FDA (some are pending FDA approval and some need more study before being approved), certain treatments have been introduced to the medical industry to help patients that aren’t responding well to traditional treatments. Sometimes, clinical trials are the best options for patients with certain types of mesothelioma or more advanced cases.
Should I get a second opinion?
Pathology reports and lab results for the diagnosis of lung cancer should be delivered to other pathologists at different labs for a second opinion. Diagnosing mesothelioma, even in a lab looking at samples from fluid tests, is extremely difficult as cells often resemble other forms of cancer.
Besides these reasons, it is also important to get a second opinion:
- To feel comfortable with the treatment decisions
- Not being able to see a cancer specialist/expert
- Being diagnosed with a rare cancer type
- Have several opinions on treatment options
Of the several subtypes of mesothelioma, some resemble lung cancer strongly, while others in women look like ovarian cancer. For this reason, a second opinion on a diagnosis is extremely valuable, as general prognosis drops the longer it takes to make an accurate diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is decided on for mesothelioma, a subtype can be determined to help determine the best route and options for treatment and options.
How do I know if I’ve been exposed to asbestos?
Being present or near any product containing asbestos while being sanded, cut, sawed, or otherwise manipulated causes extreme risk of later being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Materials containing asbestos are used mostly by contractors and the building industry.
Where is asbestos found?
Despite is use being mitigated, asbestos can still be found in:
- Insulating board
- Ceiling or floor cavities
- Textured coatings
- Roofing felt
- Certain cement products
- Composites, textiles, and floor tiles
It is important to leave any sample-taking to professionals, as improper handling can lead to exposing yourself to asbestos if you haven’t already been exposed.
Is asbestos banned?
Asbestos is a confirmed carcinogen in humans but is still used in the United States and is not currently banned. Several organizations are working to get it banned, but usage continues under strict regulation by the government.
Where can I find more information about mesothelioma and how to deal with it?
Speaking with healthcare professionals and specialists is an excellent way to learn how to deal with a confirmed diagnosis and the resources available to treat, manage, and emotionally handle the reality of life with mesothelioma. For more information, contact our Patient Advocates today.