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Guest Post - Richard Moyle, Mesothelioma Cancer Center

Posted May 14 2009 3:24pm

What is 'mesothelioma'?

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that was once widely used in a number of industrial applications. The substance was mainly used in insulation, brake lining, piping and flooring due to its durability and resistance to fire. Though harmless if left undisturbed, once asbestos is damaged the microscopic fibers are released into the air where they can then be inhaled or ingested. Once this happens, the fibers become lodged in the tissue surrounding organs like the lungs, heart or stomach.

The most common form of malignant mesothelioma affects the pleura or lining of the lungs, however mesothelioma has also been observed in the pericardium (heart lining) and peritoneum (stomach lining).

The biggest obstacle in the treatment of mesothelioma is the ability to detect the cancer early. The typical latency period of this type of cancer is anywhere from 25 to 50 years after initial exposure. Recognizable symptoms do not start to appear until about this time.

Known symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:

  • Persistent dry or raspy cough (typically non-productive, meaning no phlegm)
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Night sweats or fever
  • Unexplained weight loss of 10 percent or more
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent pain in the chest or rib area, or painful breathing
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) that occurs even when at rest
  • The appearance of lumps under the skin on the chest

Unfortunately, because symptoms take so long to exhibit and because symptoms are similar to other, less serious respiratory ailments, the cancer is not usually diagnosed until it is advanced. This makes treatment options limited and often inadequate to fight the cancer. The typical mesothelioma survival rate after diagnosis is about one year.

There are a few treatment options depending on how far along the cancer is at diagnosis.

  • Surgical – Curative surgical treatment is used to remove the cancer from the body. Unfortunately, this is only an option when the cancer is detected early, which is typically not the case.

  • Chemotherapy - Most forms of chemotherapy involve the intravenous administration of drugs such as Alimta and Cisplatin.
    Chemotherapeutic drugs are targeted to kill cells that are rapidly dividing by interfering with processes that occur during cell division. However, while cancer cells themselves divide rapidly, so do some types of healthy cells, causing some of the unpleasant side effects that are often associated with this form of treatment.

  • Radiation - used to kill cancer cells and to limit the spread of cancer. For patients with mesothelioma, radiation therapy
    is most often used in conjunction with surgery. in some cases radiation may be used as a stand-alone treatment to relieve pain and other symptoms associated with mesothelioma. In either case, it is rare for radiation therapy to provide more than short-term symptomatic relief.
  • Photodynamic Therapy - a highly specialized and specific form of treatment that is most often used to treat skin cancers, some types of lung cancer, and pleural mesothelioma. However, this treatment is usually unsuitable for patients with metastasized cancer; it is most effective in patients who have localized disease.

  • Gene Therapy - involves using genetic material
    to specifically target cancer cells and make them more vulnerable to
    chemotherapy treatment.

Because early detection is a key factor in treating mesothelioma, if you are aware that you have had any exposure to asbestos in the past, it is important that you tell your doctor. Aside from military service, a few of the most common occupations that deal with asbestos include firefighters, electricians and auto mechanics.

Richard Moyle
National Awareness Coordinator
Mesothelioma Cancer Center -

Other sources of information on 'Mesothelioma':

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