Sunday, October 31, 2010

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma, more precisely malignant mesothelioma, is a rare form of cancer that develops from the protective lining that covers many of the body's internal organs, the mesothelium. It is usually caused by exposure to asbestos. Its most common site is the pleura (outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall), but it may also occur in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity), the heart, the pericardium (a sac that surrounds the heart) or tunica vaginalis.

Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles, or they have been exposed to asbestos dust and fiber in other ways. It has also been suggested that washing the clothes of a family member who worked with asbestos can put a person at risk for developing mesothelioma. Unlike lung cancer, there is no association between mesothelioma and smoking, but smoking greatly increases the risk of other asbestos-induced cancers. Compensation via asbestos funds or lawsuits is an important issue in mesothelioma (see asbestos and the law).

The symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath due to pleural effusion (fluid between the lung and the chest wall) or chest wall pain, and general symptoms such as weight loss. The diagnosis may be suspected with chest X-ray and CT scan, and is confirmed with a biopsy (tissue sample) and microscopic examination. A thoracoscopy (inserting a tube with a camera into the chest) can be used to take biopsies. It allows the introduction of substances such as talc to obliterate the pleural space (called pleurodesis), which prevents more fluid from accumulating and pressing on the lung. Despite treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy or sometimes surgery, the disease carries a poor prognosis. Research about screening tests for the early detection of mesothelioma is ongoing.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms or signs of mesothelioma may not appear until 20 to 50 years (or more) after exposure to asbestos. Shortness of breath, cough, and pain in the chest due to an accumulation of fluid in the pleural space (pleural effusion) are often symptoms of pleural mesothelioma.

Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include weight loss and cachexia, abdominal swelling and pain due to ascites (a buildup of fluid in the abdominal cavity). Other symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma may include bowel obstruction, blood clotting abnormalities, anemia, and fever. If the cancer has spread beyond the mesothelium to other parts of the body, symptoms may include pain, trouble swallowing, or swelling of the neck or face.

These symptoms may be caused by mesothelioma or by other, less serious conditions.

Mesothelioma that affects the pleura can cause these signs and symptoms:

* Chest wall pain
* Pleural effusion, or fluid surrounding the lung
* Shortness of breath
* Fatigue or anemia
* Wheezing, hoarseness, or cough
* Blood in the sputum (fluid) coughed up (hemoptysis)

In severe cases, the person may have many tumor masses. The individual may develop a pneumothorax, or collapse of the lung. The disease may metastasize, or spread, to other parts of the body.

Tumors that affect the abdominal cavity often do not cause symptoms until they are at a late stage. Symptoms include:

* Abdominal pain
* Ascites, or an abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen
* A mass in the abdomen
* Problems with bowel function
* Weight loss

In severe cases of the disease, the following signs and symptoms may be present:

* Blood clots in the veins, which may cause thrombophlebitis
* Disseminated intravascular coagulation, a disorder causing severe bleeding in many body organs
* Jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes and skin
* Low blood sugar level
* Pleural effusion
* Pulmonary emboli, or blood clots in the arteries of the lungs
* Severe ascites

A mesothelioma does not usually spread to the bone, brain, or adrenal glands. Pleural tumors are usually found only on one side of the lungs.

1 comment:

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