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Malignant mesothelioma (me-zo-thee-le-O-muh) is a rare cancer that occurs in the thin layer of tissue that covers the majority of your internal organs (mesothelium). Doctors divide mesothelioma into different types based on what part of the mesothelium is affected, including:
Between 2,000 and 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the United States each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Complications of Mesothelioma Tumor
Complications from spreading cancer
As pleural mesothelioma spreads in the chest, it puts pressure on the structures in that area. This can cause complications, such as:
Mesothelioma that progresses can lead to death. People who die of mesothelioma usually die from related complications, such as lung failure, heart problems, stroke and other causes.
Causes of Mesothelioma Tumor
In general, cancer begins when a series of genetic mutations occur within a cell, causing the cell to grow and multiply out of control, when healthy cells would normally die. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from an initial tumor to spread elsewhere in the body (metastasize). It isn't clear what causes the initial genetic mutations that lead to mesothelioma, though researchers have identified factors that may increase the risk. It's likely that cancers form because of an interaction between many factors, such as inherited conditions, your environment, your health conditions and your lifestyle choices.
Benign pleural mesothelioma
A form of noncancerous (benign) tumor that can occur in the chest is sometimes called benign mesothelioma. However, this name is misleading. Benign mesothelioma doesn't begin in the same cells where the cancerous forms of mesothelioma begin. And, in a minority of cases, benign mesothelioma can be very aggressive, despite the term "benign." For this reason, some doctors now refer this tumor as solitary fibrous tumor. Solitary fibrous tumor usually doesn't cause signs and symptoms. Most cases are inadvertently discovered during tests and procedures for other conditions. It isn't clear what causes solitary fibrous tumors, but they aren't linked to asbestos exposure. Treatment for solitary fibrous tumor typically includes surgery.
Signs & Symptoms of Mesothelioma Tumor
Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma vary depending on where the cancer occurs.
Pleural mesothelioma signs and symptoms may include:
Peritoneal mesothelioma signs and symptoms may include:
Other forms of mesothelioma
Signs and symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma and mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis are unclear. These forms are so rare that not much information is available. Pericardial mesothelioma signs and symptoms may include difficulty breathing or chest pains. Mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis may be first detected as a mass on a testicle.
Diagnosis of Mesothelioma Tumor
If you have signs and symptoms that might indicate mesothelioma, your doctor will conduct a physical exam to check for any lumps or other unusual signs. Your doctor may order imaging scans, such as a chest X-ray or a computerized tomography (CT) scan of your chest or abdomen, to look for abnormalities. It's not uncommon for mesothelioma to be misdiagnosed initially because mesothelioma is rare, and its signs and symptoms aren't specific. Your doctor will likely rule out other more common conditions before considering mesothelioma.
Biopsy, a procedure to remove a small portion of tissue for laboratory examination, is the only way to determine whether you have mesothelioma. Depending on what area of your body is affected, your doctor selects the right biopsy procedure for you. Options include:
Once mesothelioma is diagnosed, your doctor orders other tests to determine the extent, or stage, of the cancer. Imaging tests that may help determine the stage of your cancer include:
Once the extent of pleural mesothelioma is determined, a stage is assigned. Formal stages aren't available for other types of mesothelioma because these types are rare and aren't well studied. The stages of pleural mesothelioma are:
Treatments of Mesothelioma Tumor
What treatment you undergo for mesothelioma depends on your health and certain aspects of your cancer, such as its stage and location. Unfortunately, mesothelioma often is an aggressive disease and for most people a cure isn't possible. Mesothelioma is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage — when it isn't possible to remove the cancer through an operation. Instead, your doctor may work to control your cancer to make you more comfortable. Discuss treatment goals with your doctor. Some people want to do everything they can to treat their cancer, even if that means enduring side effects for a small chance of an improvement. Others prefer treatments that make them comfortable so that they can live their remaining months as symptom-free as possible.
Surgeons work to remove mesothelioma in instances where it is diagnosed at an early stage. Sometimes it isn't possible to remove all of the cancer. In those cases, surgery may help to reduce the signs and symptoms caused by mesothelioma spreading in your body. Surgical options may include:
Chemotherapy uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Systemic chemotherapy travels throughout the body and may shrink or slow the growth of a pleural mesothelioma that can't be removed using surgery. Chemotherapy may also be used before surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy) to make an operation easier or after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy) to reduce the chance that cancer will return. Chemotherapy drugs may also be heated and administered directly into the abdominal cavity (intraperitoneal chemotherapy), in the case of peritoneal mesothelioma, or into the chest cavity (intrapleural chemotherapy), in the case of pleural mesothelioma. Using this strategy, chemotherapy drugs can reach the mesothelioma directly without injuring healthy cells in other parts of the body. This allows doctors to administer higher doses of chemotherapy drugs. Intraperitoneal chemotherapy may also be used to reduce the signs and symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma that can't be removed through surgery.
Radiation therapy focuses high-energy beams to a specific spot or spots on your body. Radiation may reduce signs and symptoms in people with pleural mesothelioma. Doctors aim radiation at the entire chest to obtain the best result. However, many sensitive organs are in the chest, such as the heart, lungs, esophagus and spinal cord, so doctors must use low doses of radiation to spare these organs. Radiation therapy is sometimes used after biopsy or surgery to prevent mesothelioma from spreading to the surgical incision. Radiation therapy is used occasionally in people with peritoneal mesothelioma to reduce signs and symptoms caused by the cancer.
Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be combined. This aggressive therapy can be grueling and may not be appropriate for everyone. Younger, healthier people and those with earlier stage mesothelioma may be more able to endure this treatment. Combination therapy has shown the most promise in treating mesothelioma. However, most people will eventually experience a recurrence of this cancer despite aggressive treatment. Combination therapy has been used in both pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma.
Clinical trials are studies of new mesothelioma treatment methods. People with mesothelioma may opt for a clinical trial for a chance to try new types of treatment. However, a cure isn't guaranteed. Carefully consider your treatment options and talk to your doctor about what clinical trials are open to you. Your participation in a clinical trial may help doctors better understand how to treat mesothelioma in the future. Clinical trials are currently investigating a number of targeted drugs. Targeted drug therapy uses drugs to attack specific abnormalities within cancer cells. Targets being studied in mesothelioma include a substance that cancer cells make to attract new blood vessels to bring the cancer oxygen and nutrients. Another target is an enzyme that helps cancer cells develops resistance to chemotherapy drugs. Researchers hope drugs that target these areas can help kill mesothelioma cells.
Treatment for other types of mesothelioma
Pericardial mesothelioma and mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis are very rare and can be very aggressive. Early-stage cancer may be removed through surgery. Doctors have yet to determine the best way to treat later stage cancers, though. Your doctor may recommend other treatments to improve your quality of life.
Prevention of Mesothelioma Tumor
Reducing your exposure to asbestos may lower your risk of mesothelioma.
Find out whether you work with asbestos
Most people with mesothelioma were exposed to the asbestos fibers at work. Workers who may encounter asbestos fibers include:
Ask your employer whether you have a risk of asbestos exposure on the job.
Follow your employer's safety regulations
Follow all safety precautions in your workplace, such as wearing protective equipment. You may also be required to shower and change out of your work clothes before taking a lunch break or going home. Talk to your doctor about other precautions you can take to protect yourself from asbestos exposure.
Be safe around asbestos in your home
Older homes and buildings may contain asbestos. In many cases, it's more dangerous to remove the asbestos than it is to leave it intact. Breaking up asbestos may cause fibers to become airborne, where they can be inhaled. Consult experts trained to detect asbestos in your home. These experts may test the air in your home to determine whether the asbestos is a risk to your health. Don't attempt to remove asbestos from your home — hire a qualified expert. The Environmental Protection Agency offers advice on its Web site for dealing with asbestos in the home.
When to seek Medical Advice
See your doctor if you have signs and symptoms that may indicate mesothelioma. Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma aren't specific to this disease and, due to the rarity of mesothelioma, are more likely to be related to other conditions. If any persistent signs and symptoms seem unusual or bothersome to you, ask your doctor to evaluate them.
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