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Mesothelioma Symptoms and Causes

Author:   Peter Sedesse MD

What is Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the Mesothelium, a protective tissue that surrounds the lungs, abdomen and heart. Mesothelioma is almost a household word thanks in part to the large number of class action lawsuits involving asbestos mining and the use of asbestos in manufacturing. The basis of these Mesothelioma class action lawsuits stems from the fact that the risks of asbestos exposure were known in the late 1800´s, yet workers were not adequately protected for decades afterwards. Other than asbestos exposure, there are other, much less common causes of Mesothelioma that are similar to other cancers. Symptoms of Mesothelioma differ drastically depending on if the chest or abdomen are affected, and the location and extent of the cancer.

Causes of Mesothelioma

Asbestos exposure is the leading cause of Mesothelioma, with approximately 80% of cases being traceable back to the exposure. The exposure can come from either inhalation of the asbestos fibers or ingestion. It is important to note that many cases of Mesothelioma have also been reported in family members of individuals who worked extensively with asbestos. This is mostly likely caused by asbestos fibers from the hair or clothing of the exposed worker being later inhaled by the family members. Other causes of Mesothelioma include things that are normally related to all types of cancers like viral infections and radiation, along with exposure to certain other chemicals that are similar in structure to asbestos.

Mesothelioma can have a very delayed onset along with minor symptoms

Mesothelioma is one of the more deadly types of cancer because symptoms usually only start to appear a decade, and sometimes up to forty years after exposure. Also, because of the location of the Mesothelium tissue, tumors do not usually cause severe symptoms until they are relatively large. The majority of patients diagnosed with Mesothelioma die within six to twelve months. Symptoms of Mesothelioma depend mainly on if the tissue of the chest or abdomen are involved, and also on what other tissue is near the tumor. Most cases of Mesothelioma involve the pleura, which is the tissue that surrounds the lungs. In this type of Mesothelioma, the first and most common symptom is shortness of breath. This is caused by either the tumor directly, or because the tumor is causing fluids to build up in the pleural cavity. Another common symptom is chest pain. Obviously these two symptoms are very common for many disease states, and in the case of Mesothelioma, the symptoms begin so mild that they are often ignored. The combination of very common, and very mild symptoms is largely responsible for the high mortality rate of Mesothelioma cancer.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pleural Mesothelioma can also cause other symptoms depending on its exact placement. In some cases, the tumor is located high enough in the chest that it can cause difficulty swallowing or even a change in voice. Pleural Mesothelioma can also be located very low in the chest, and can cause problems with control of the diaphragm, which results in difficulty breathing. In extreme cases, a Pleural Mesothelioma can protrude through the diaphragm and cause digestion related symptoms. This is different than Mesothelioma that affects the abdominal tissue directly.

Abdomenal or Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma that affects the abdomen tissue is called Peritoneal Mesothelioma. The symptoms of this type of Mesothelioma are more related to the tumor pressing on the stomach and small intestines. The most common symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and heartburn. As the cancer progresses, other symptoms will appear such as anemia, weight-loss and swelling.

Treatment options for Mesothelioma of all types is similar to most cancers and includes surgical removal of the tumor and surrounding tissue, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In most cases, two or all three options are used. The prognosis for Mesothelioma depends on how quickly it is diagnosed, which unfortunately is usually late. Also, as with most cancer, treatment options and effectiveness of those treatments depends on if the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body.

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