Mesothelioma: The Quiet Cancer

Mesothelioma is one of the hardest types of cancer to detect, and this delay in diagnosis often comes at the cost of the patient’s life. Read more to find out to better understand this "quiet cancer."

Exposure to asbestos causes a rare and lethal type of cancer called mesothelioma. Although asbestos may not be considered a dangerous material when it’s in good condition, once the fiber deteriorates and becomes airborne these small particles can cause cancer of the heart, lungs and abdomen when inhaled.

Asbestos can be found in some of the basic building materials used for construction, especially during the mid to late twentieth century. Thus, the most likely victims of mesothelioma are people who have greater exposure to asbestos fibers such as construction workers. The danger of these materials was previously unknown to people in the past and many people who suffer from mesothelioma ignore the symptoms until they become severe because the initial symptoms of the disease can be similar to general aging.

It is important for those who have been exposed to asbestos in their younger years to see a doctor who can examine the symptoms and diagnose them accordingly. The sooner the diagnosis is made, the higher number of options for mesothelioma treatment and the increase of survival.

There are several different types of malignant mesothelioma:

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

      This is an abdominal cancer caused by exposure to asbestos and is considered a rare cancer currently without a cure. A person who has this peritoneal mesothelioma is usually required to undergo anti-cancer therapies, surgery and radiation. The two main ways to develop this type of cancer is through ingestion and inhalation of asbestos. Once the fiber enters your body it goes through the digestive system and lodges itself into the membranous peritoneal tissue. Since the fibers are blocked and cannot set themselves free, they will cause inflammation in the tissue. These fibers also initiate the formation of a tumor. Like all types of mesothelioma, detection does not usually occur until several years after the disease has been contracted.

Pleural Mesothelioma

      This occurs when the cancer cells develop and spread in the pleura. The pleura is a serous membrane which covers the lungs along the mesothelium. Pleura are necessary for the contraction and expansion of the lungs which enable breathing. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma. Like the other types of mesothelioma it develops in individuals who have been exposed to asbestos. It occurs when asbestos fibers lodge in the thin linings of the lungs causing inflammation and forming tumors, making it incredibly difficult to breathe. The most common signs of the disease are the frequent shortness of breath followed by periods of coughing and wheezing.

Pericardial Mesothelioma

      This is a very rare type of cancer affects the lining of the heart. It has the same causes as the other types of mesothelioma, and stems from asbestos exposure. Patients having this type of cancer may experience chest pain and difficulty breathing. The only way to remove the tumor is through an extrapleural pneumonectomy surgical procedure. This involves the removal of one lung, some of the diaphragm, as well as the lining of the heart and lungs.

Be informed

Many people are aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure, but don’t know a great deal about mesothelioma because it is rare among other cancers. While the most affected individuals are those who have worked or lived in the environment where asbestos is present, people who have genetic predisposition for certain types of cancer are also at risk of developing peritoneal mesothelioma. Those who are suffering from these types of cancer may experience pronounced discomforts of the abdomen and develop a noticeable abdominal mass or lump. Additional symptoms may also include diarrhea, constipation, compromised cardiovascular functions and nausea as well as bowel obstruction.

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(Images courtesy of I Had Cancer)