Although mesothelioma is a fairly rare cancer, it is highly malignant and can impact several major organ systems in the body. This condition is correlated with exposure to asbestos, which had been a common building and insulating material throughout the mid to late twentieth century. However, when asbestos dust of fibers are inhaled or enter the body through the mouth, the result is an ongoing irritation of mucus membranes, which eventually leads to the proliferation of cancerous cells.
Since asbestos has the most profound effect on the lining of organs, three specific manifestations of the illness are most commonly witnessed.
- Pleural mesothelioma – this is the most common expression of the disease as it is the impact of the inhaled fibers and dust that are inhaled and become lodged in the tissue of the lungs. Along with malignant growths, the tissue of the lungs can also begin to harden, and this impacts breathing directly, but can also lead to fluid build-up in the pleura.
- Peritoneal mesothelioma – in this manifestation of the disease, the gastric system is directly impacted by the ingestion of asbestos as dust or fibers in the air. While irritation to the mucus membranes also results in malignant growth, these can be throughout the gastrointestinal tract, but can also be specifically targeted in the stomach, colon, and even liver and pancreas.
- Pericardial mesothelioma – in this aspect of the condition, asbestos dust which has entered into the blood stream becomes lodged in the lining of the heart. While this is a rare diagnosis, it can lead to hardening of the heart muscle and cardiac arrest.
As these different forms of mesothelioma affect different organ systems, the symptoms for each can vary.
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent coughing
- Chest pains
- Fluid in the lungs
These can all be indicative of pleural mesothelioma.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms
- Abdominal pains
- Nausea and lack of appetite
- Vomiting and diarrhea
These symptoms are more closely related to peritoneal mesothelioma.
Pericardial Mesthelioma Symptoms
Although pericardial mesthelioma is not often diagnosed, many of the associated symptoms do mimic that of cardiac distress. This includes:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- Irregular heart beats
- Low grade fevers
However, it should be noted that while the impacts of asbestos directly influence the associated organ systems in a specific manner, mesothelioma also addresses the cancerous formations that are forming in these parts of the body. For this reason, symptoms such as general fatigue and a high white blood cell count could also indicate the development of malignancies.
Treating a Variety of Symptoms
One of the challenges in treating mesothelioma is that it is not only a question of eradicating the cancer, but also of healing the damage that has occurred within the tissue. For this reason, early diagnosis of any of the forms of mesothelioma can lead to a better prognosis and better health outcomes.
As with most cancers, mesothelioma does move through stages.
- Stage 1 – malignant formations are just beginning, and are limited to a small portion of the affected area. While diagnosis at this stage is not always accurate, catching the illness at this stage could mean surgery and minimal follow up treatments.
- Stage 2 – at this point, the cancerous growth has spread, but is still localized within the body cavity. Some impact on the lymph nodes may show, but surgery and aggressive treatment options can still show good outcomes.
- Stage 3 – the malignancy has now spread beyond the body cavity and is beginning to impact nearby organ systems. The impact on the lymph nodes has become more systemic, and this further spreads cancer cells through the body. Surgery can be risky at this stage, especially based on the size of the malignancy and where it is located, but other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation may still have a beneficial health outcome.
- Stage 4 – the spread of the cancer has moved beyond the related organ cavities and has become fully systemic. Lymph nodes throughout the body are affected, and physical function may be greatly impaired. Limited treatments may be applicable at this stage, but specialists in the field can still provide options for relief.
This also means that while treatment considerations for the actual cancer need to be factored into health outcomes, interventions for the other effects of mesothelioma will also need to be a consideration. Some approaches will directly address the damage to the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and heart for palliative and restorative care, usually after the malignancy has been attended to.
As a result, primary treatments for mesothelioma are focused on containing the tumors and keeping them from spreading.
- Surgery – while this can be the most effective form of treatment, it is largely only applicable to diagnoses of stage 1 or 2. In some cases, stage 3 mesothelioma will also respond to surgery, although this does depend on the size of the mass and the organs that are affected.
- Chemotherapy and radiation – both of these approaches can be used with surgery or on their own. The focus is to use either chemical or radiation to destroy the cancer cells still present in the body. These tend to be long-term commitments, as several rounds of treatment can be necessary to effectively combat the mesothelioma, but they can also be used in all the stages of the cancer.
- Clinical trials – although these are unproven methods of treatment, they are also an integral part of the research for finding better interventions for this disease. Clinical trials often represent the best hope for people with late stage mesothelioma, and these treatments can focus on the cancer as much as the adjunct damage to organ systems.
- Holistic and integrative medicine – while this can include alternative therapies such as Eastern and Ayurvedic medicine, these interventions are frequently combined with traditional treatments to provide better wellness support. This can also include nutritional guidance to aid the body’s healing process and psychological counseling to maintain hope and a positive outlook, which also boosts natural immune function.
Visit The Mesothelioma Fund for additional information.