No guide to mesothelioma can be complete or accurate without first understanding asbestos and its role in this deadly disease. Asbestos is a mineral that has long been valued for its strength and its resistance to heat and flame. It has been used in numerous applications for centuries, in all corners of the world, but never to the extent that it was used during the twentieth century and following the Industrial Revolution. It has only been in the last several decades that its dangers have become widely known, and the damage that it has caused to human health has been understood. The material, which is extremely inexpensive for manufacturers to use, is made up of fine fibers that break down and are easily inhaled or ingested. Once asbestos enters the body and becomes embedded in human cells, it causes mutations that grow into mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer for which there is currently no cure. Many asbestos manufacturers were aware of the material’s dangers but chose to keep the information secret in order to continue making profits. It is unknown exactly how many lives have been lost as a result or how many will continue to die as a result of exposure to this dangerous carcinogen. Though its use has been curtailed, it does continue both in the United States and around the world. As a result, it is expected that mesothelioma will continue to be diagnosed well into the future.
There are many forms of cancer for which effective treatments have been found, but mesothelioma continues to be a medical mystery. This cancer is specifically found in the cells of the mesothelium a thin lining that surrounds the organs of the lungs, the abdomen, the area surrounding the heart, and the testes. When mesothelioma is found in the lung cavity it is referred to as pleural mesothelioma. When it is found in the abdominal cavity, it is called peritoneal mesothelioma. Though the condition is caused by exposure to asbestos, it takes many decades between the actual exposure and the appearance of symptoms. This large gap of time and mesothelioma’s rarity combine to make it a very difficult for physicians to diagnose. Few recognize its symptoms for what it is: instead they mistake its chest pains, weight loss, cough and shortness of breath for other, more common conditions. In the meantime, valuable treatment time is lost. It is often only when patients’ conditions continue to worsen despite the use of antibiotics or other remedies that the condition is suspected, diagnosed, and treatment can begin.
People who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis or asbestos-related lung cancer may be eligible to file for compensation from those responsible for their illnesses. Contact us today to learn more about your rights, and to receive a free Financial Compensation Packet.
The Victims of Mesothelioma
The victims of mesothelioma come from all walks of life and all types of backgrounds. They are both men and women, those who have worked in trades their entire lives and those who never worked outside of their home. The largest percentage of victims of mesothelioma can be found in the community of veterans of America’s armed services, but many who were never in the service were exposed in factory settings, construction settings, and other places where asbestos was used. Men seem more vulnerable to mesothelioma then women, and older men are more likely to be diagnosed then younger men. But even the children and spouses of asbestos workers have been sickened by exposure to the fine dust that their loved ones carried home on their clothing, skin and hair. The same is true of office workers who were exposed to factory workers walking through their administrative settings.
The veterans who have been most impacted by exposure to asbestos are those that served in the Navy, though all branches were impacted by the use of the deadly material. Naval vessels that were constructed and built immediately before the start of World War II through to the Vietnam War made extensive use of asbestos in their insulation, their electrical systems and their hulls, as the material provided tremendous strength and resistance to heat. Though the goal of using asbestos was safety, the long-term impact was deadly, as many have since been diagnosed with mesothelioma and other deadly cancers.
Workers in factories, oil refineries, steel plants and other industrial settings were similarly exposed to asbestos until the Environmental Protection Agency began regulating its use. Even as many attempted to institute a total ban of asbestos in the United States, asbestos companies lobbied to continue employing the deadly product.
Mesothelioma has a long latency period. This means that it can take decades between the time that asbestos exposure takes place and when symptoms first begin to manifest themselves. All too often, when people begin to feel sick they make no association between their symptoms and their previous exposure to asbestos: with so many years having passed, some may not even remember having worked with the hazardous material. As a result, victims often disregard or dismiss their shortness of breath or cough as being caused by something benign like a cold or flu. Even when they go to visit their physicians they may fail to mention their previous asbestos exposure. All of these factors work against a prompt diagnosis being made, and subsequently against effective treatment protocols beginning.
Once mesothelioma is suspected, there are a series of blood tests and imaging studies that can confirm its presence. Patients may be asked to submit tissue samples from their lungs or from fluid that has collected in their abdomen in order to confirm the physician’s suspicions. Once it is diagnosed, treatment is usually provided by cancer specialists working as part of a multi-modality team.
The Four Stages of Mesothelioma
As is true with other forms of cancer, one of the first and most important steps that mesothelioma physicians take after diagnosis is to stage the disease. Staging provides health care professionals with a better sense of how far advanced the mesothelioma is and what the most effective treatment protocol will be. There are four stages that have been identified, with Stage 1 representing mesothelioma at its earliest stage and Stage 4 representing its end stage, when it has spread and grown to the point where little can be done beyond making the patient as comfortable as possible.
Very few mesothelioma patients are identified when they are in Stage 1, as at that stage, symptoms rarely arise. For those who are fortunate enough to be identified during Stage 2, there is the best chance of treatment being effective and survival time being extended. The tumors are generally still localized and therefore surgery presents a viable treatment option.
When mesothelioma is diagnosed during Stage 3, the cancer cells have spread to other areas of the body. This makes the possibility of successfully treating it through surgical intervention much more challenging. Patients may still be treated using a combination of surgery and chemotherapy, but the possibility of long-term success becomes more remote. For those who are diagnosed with Stage 4 mesothelioma, the reality of the situation is that patients have little chance of cure. The focus shifts to what is known as palliative care, which has a goal of providing the highest possible quality of life in the time that is remaining. Pain management measures are important, and though surgery may be offered it will be to reduce discomfort rather than to extend life.
Because of the way that mesothelioma remains hidden in the body for such a long period of time, many patients are not diagnosed until they are at Stage 3 or Stage 4, leaving them few options for effective treatment or extended survival. Though every patient is different and will respond differently to treatment, the median survival rate for those who are diagnosed with this rare form of cancer is generally under two years from the time of diagnosis.
Treatment Options for Mesothelioma
Patients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma are offered a variety of treatment options dependent upon a variety of factors. Deciding elements include the type of mesothelioma they have been diagnosed with, their overall health and age, how far the disease has advanced within the body, and the patient’s wishes. Some choose to treat the degree aggressively, pursuing every option in order to extend their survival. Others choose a less invasive approach that is geared towards allowing them to make the most of the time that they have left. Regardless of which path is chosen, treatment often involves chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, or some combination of all three.
Research into new treatment options has ventured into new approaches, including the potential development of a vaccine, immunotherapy, photodynamic therapy, and other state-of-the-art innovations. Clinical trials are also constantly being done to test new drug combinations to determine what will provide the longest survival, and an eventual cure.
Patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma may find relief of their symptoms by pursuing non-traditional treatment approaches, including acupuncture, hypnosis, massage therapy and meditation. Many mesothelioma treatment centers incorporate these alternative medicines into their program in order to offer patients the greatest benefit possible.