Malignant mesothelioma is a rare and fatal form of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. The disease, which can attack three different areas of the body, is diagnosed in just 3,500 people per year. Of the three types of mesothelioma, the one that is most commonly diagnosed is pleural mesothelioma. This cancer impacts the cavity in which the patient’s lungs are located. This particular type of mesothelioma affects three out of four patients with mesothelioma, and though physicians have had more success in treating it than other manifestations of the disease, the prognosis for survival remains poor.
It is no surprise that mesothelioma, a disease that is caused by exposure to asbestos, is most likely to impact the lungs. When asbestos becomes airborne, as it does in so many of the environments where it has been either mined or used, its fibers and dust become airborne and are easily inhaled. These fibers have a distinct, needle-like shape that makes it easy for them to become embedded in the cells of the pleural lining. Once asbestos contaminates these cells, the result is cell death and mutations that eventually grow into malignant pleural mesothelioma tumors.
Pleural mesothelioma has an extremely low survival rate. As is true with the other types of mesothelioma, the condition has an exceptionally long latency period, and is often not diagnosed until fifty years after the patient’s exposure to asbestos took place. In that period of time, the cancer has the opportunity to advance unabated and spread to other regions of the body. By the time that most mesothelioma patients experience symptoms and have their condition accurately diagnosed, they are in an advanced stage of the disease and treatment options are extremely limited.
One of the reasons that diagnosis is so frequently delayed is that once mesothelioma symptoms do begin to appear, they are mistaken for other, more benign conditions. The initial signs of pleural mesothelioma are similar to those that older people experience when they have the common cold, the flu, bronchitis, or even pneumonia. The patient is likely to first delay seeking medical attention, thinking that they can treat their illness themselves using over-the-counter remedies. Then, when their symptoms worsen they eventually go to their doctor, who generally treats what is the most common cause of infection. They may provide a flu treatment, or an antibiotic in the belief that what the patient is suffering from is a virus or infection. Unless a physician is aware of the patient’s previous exposure to asbestos, it is unlikely that they will immediately suspect a condition as rare as mesothelioma. Because of this common dynamic, valuable treatment time is often lost while waiting for the correct diagnosis to be made.
Prognosis for Pleural Mesothelioma
Despite the efforts of the scientific community, there is still no cure for pleural mesothelioma. The condition has proven resistant to available treatments, which at best delay the inevitable. Every patient responds differently to chemotherapy, surgery, and other medical strategies, and a patient’s overall health at the time of diagnosis can play a big part in their prognosis, but very few patients live more than two years from the time of their diagnosis.
Treatment Options for Pleural Mesothelioma
Generally speaking, malignant mesothelioma is treated using what is known as a multi-modality protocol. This means that a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are tailored to the individual patient’s needs. Research has shown that by using these different types of therapy together, they are able to provide both an extension of the amount of time that the patient has left, and an improvement in their comfort and quality of life.
Recent trends in the treatment of pleural mesothelioma look at a variety of elements of each individual patient’s condition, including their cell type, their overall health, and the stage of their cancer to determine which type of surgery, should be performed and for what purpose, as well as when chemotherapy or radiation therapy should be administered. This individualized approach, which often takes into account the wishes and goals of the patient and their family, has been shown to yield the best results.
Surgery – Surgery is often the first line of defense for pleural mesothelioma patients. Though it is invasive, it is also the most effective method of providing them with a longer survival time and relief from pain. Because pleural mesothelioma consists of tumors that infiltrate different areas of the lungs and surrounding areas, removing these tumors and the organs that have been impacted is a standard medical approach. In some cases the surgery that is performed simply removes the tumors and the pleural lining: this is known as a pleurectomy and decortication. Another, more invasive surgery known as a radical extrapleural pneumonectomy can also be performed. It involves the complete removal of the lung that has been impacted by the mesothelioma tumors, as well as a good deal of the surrounding tissue.
Deciding which surgery is most appropriate is a difficult decision that must take into account the patient’s ability to withstand the surgery itself. In both pleurectomy/decortication and extrapleural pneumonectomy, there is a good chance that the surgeon will find that the diaphragm or ribs have been infiltrated by the cancer and need to be removed. Undergoing such extensive surgery puts patients at risk of a number of risks and side effects, including:
- Lung malfunction
- Blood Clots
Chemotherapy has become one of the gold standards of cancer treatment for the treatment of all types of cancers. Unfortunately, malignant mesothelioma cells have proven to be resistant to this approach, which consists of using anti-cancer drugs to stop cancer cell division and kill cancer cell. Though mesothelioma researchers have not been able to eradicate cancer with this approach, they have found it extends survival by eliminating cancer cells that are not removed through surgery. It has also proven to eliminate some of the more uncomfortable symptoms that mesothelioma tumors cause. Unfortunately, because chemotherapy works by attacking rapidly dividing cells, it can also have some unpleasant side effects, including:
- Loss of hair from the head and the rest of the body
- Mouth ulcers
- Lowered immune function
- Fatigue and lethargy
Radiation Therapy – Radiation therapy uses state-of-the-art technology to kill cancer cells by submitting them to high frequency radiation. It is frequently used in combination with surgery to reduce the size of tumors. It can also be used to treat tumors that are not surgically accessible, providing patients with relief from the pressure and pain that is caused as the mesothelioma tumors grow and compress internal organs. Though radiation is considered to be effective, it also has a number of side effects that can cause concern and pain, including:
- Rashes and burns
- Loss of hair
- Loss of appetite
- Shortness of breatah
In addition to the traditional medical protocols, many patients who have been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma have found that they have benefited from alternative therapies. These approaches are outside of the medical norm and have not been shown to have any curative impact, but they can be used side by side in order to provide improved quality of life, stress relief, and pain control, and many mesothelioma physicians encourage their patients to take advantage of them; some even offer them as part of their holistic approach to treating the condition. Among the most popular alternative medicine options being used are:
Help for Pleural Mesothelioma Victims
People who have been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma may be eligible for compensation from the $30 billion asbestos trust funds, or to file a mesothelioma lawsuit against the asbestos companies that negligently exposed them to asbestos. If you or someone you love has an asbestos-related condition like mesothelioma, asbestosis, or asbestos lung cancer, contact our office today at 1-800-706-5606. We will put you in touch with one of our experienced mesothelioma attorneys or send you a free Financial Compensation Packet that will provide you with helpful information about the compensation that you may be eligible to receive.