When asbestos is disturbed and released into the air the fibers are breathed in and may get trapped in the lungs and remain there for a long time. Over time, these fibers can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation, which can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos.
There are three types of mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung. Peritoneal mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the abdominal cavity and pericardial mesothelioma is a very rare, cancerous disease of the tissue layers surrounding the heart. There are sub-types of mesothelioma called epithelioid, which is the most common and considered the most agreeable to treatment. Sarcomatous, which is a much more aggressive form of mesothelioma, is a combination of both of the other cell types.
The early symptoms of mesothelioma are usually have very non-specific. Symptoms sometimes take up to 50 years after exposure to become apparent. It can, at times, resemble viral pneumonia and have the same symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain and/or persistent cough while some patients show no symptoms at all. One of the most common symptoms of mesothelioma is an accumulation of fluid between the pleura covering the lungs. Some of the less common symptoms of mesothelioma include fever, night sweats and weight loss. Chest X-rays, ultrasounds and CT scans may be used to diagnose this cancer. If any of these tests prove suspicious for mesothelioma a biopsy is done to confirm the diagnosis.
Mesothelioma seems to be pretty resistant to most therapies including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The treatment also depends on how far the cancer has progressed. If detected early enough surgery may be an option. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, lungs, chest wall, or other organs surgery is no longer an option. Radiation therapy can be used to kill the cancer cells and shrink tumors, but this approach runs the risk of damaging the heart and lungs.
There are new tests and research being done on mesothelioma. Early detection of the cancer gives the patient a better chance. The survival rate is increasing past the year that most diagnosed patients were given and a handful have now been cured.