Overview of Mesothelioma

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Mesothelioma is a cancer that typically originates from the cell lining of the abdominal cavity or the cell lining of the chest cavity. When mesothelioma affects the chest area, it is called pleural malignant mesothelioma, when it affects the abdominal area, it is called peritoneal mesothelioma. In individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma, the tumors grow aggressively and as a result, the prognosis is grim; sufferers typically die of mesothelioma. Additionally, this type of cancer is not as sensitive to chemotherapy or radiation therapy as other types of tumors are.

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Symptoms

Symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath due to accumulated fluid in the lung space, hoarse voice, sweating, fever, unexplained weight loss, and pain in the rib cage. Lumps in the chest, or pain and swelling in the abdominal area caused by fluid accumulation can also be indicators of mesothelioma.

Causes

In a general sense, cancer starts as a result of genetic mutations occurring within cells; this causes cells to grow or multiply out of control. In cases of mesothelioma, it is not really clear what exactly causes the genetic mutations that result in mesothelioma. However, there are known factors that increase a person’s risk for having mesothelioma. For instance, this type of cancer usually occurs in older men who were exposed to asbestos in the workplace; typically the exposure occurs anywhere from 15 to 40 years before the mesothelioma symptoms start to occur. There are some cases where radiation or viruses have been cited as potential causes. In addition, doctors have indicated that patients can inherit a tendency for certain health problems, and they believe that inherited conditions or genetics could be part of why mesothelioma occurs. Doctors also believe that unhealthy environments and certain lifestyle choices are causes of mesothelioma.

Diagnosis

In the diagnostic process, the patient’s mesothelioma tumor is examined via CAT scan, MRI, or x-ray in order to identify where it is located in the body. Usually a biopsy is done, which involves tissue being removed from the body and tested. There is also thoracoscopy or laparoscopy. Thoracoscopy involves a small incision in the chest wall and inserting a small camera so that the doctor can see inside of the chest area. Laparoscopy involves an incision and inserting a camera put into the abdomen to determine if there is cancer there. In addition, bronchoscopy is done; this involves inserting a tube down into the airway so the doctor can ascertain if there are cancer cells present. Once tissue is removed from the body, the tissue is treated with chemical stains, which help the doctor to confirm diagnosis of mesothelioma.

Treatment

The treatment plan for mesothelioma depends on the aggressiveness, location, and degree of spread of the cancer. Usually, surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy are used to treat mesothelioma. Granted, there are times when the severity of the case results in the removal of an entire lung because the tumor cannot be totally removed. In these cases, radiation therapy or chemotherapy is given to the patient after surgery to help remove any residual mesothelioma that was not removed during surgery.