Mesothelioma is one of the most challenging types of cancer to treat. Though this is in large part due to the diseases’ genetic makeup, and mesothelioma’s resistance to traditional treatments, it is complicated further by the fact that most people don’t realize that they have mesothelioma until it is very far advanced. Mesothelioma has symptoms that are so similar to those of other, more common conditions that people frequently ignore what they’re feeling, assuming that it is just a cold or flu and that they will be feeling better shortly. Even after their symptoms don’t go away and they finally go to see their physician, most doctors will quickly assume that the symptoms are coming from more benign conditions like pneumonia or an infection. Valuable time is spent treating the wrong disease with antibiotics or cough medicines, when what was actually needed was aggressive cancer treatment.
The best way to overcome this problem is to pay attention to how you are feeling – especially if you have ever worked around asbestos. People who have worked near this toxic material are strongly urged to make sure that their physician is aware of their exposure history so that they recognize mesothelioma symptoms for what they are.
How Mesothelioma Tricks Us
Think about your symptoms when you have the cold or the flu. You probably have a cough and feel congested in the chest. Maybe your chest hurts, or you feel tired and rundown. If you have been exposed to asbestos, then those everyday symptoms that we’ve all experienced since childhood can be the first warnings that you are suffering from mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, when people have these symptoms they tend to rely on over-the-counter remedies and assume that they will get better in a short period of time. They may even complain to friends or family members that they are simply unable to shake their cold, not realizing that what they are feeling is a serious matter. Making matters worse, if their symptoms become more severe and their physician diagnoses them with pneumonia, they may be treated for that infection without anybody realizing that the pneumonia is actually a symptom of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a condition that impacts the mesothelium, which is an organ made up of special cells that cover and protect other organs. The mesothelium allows the organs to sit next to one another and move within the body without interference. When asbestos fibers become embedded in the mesothelium, the cells die and the cells around them mutate and transform into cancer cells.
Pleural Mesothelioma and Its Symptoms
Mesothelioma can attack the lungs or the abdominal cavity, as well as other organs of the body. When the lining of the lungs is impacted by mesothelioma cancer it is called pleural mesothelioma, and the symptoms are very similar to those of pneumonia or bronchitis. Victims may experience violent coughing spells, pain in their chest, and shortness of breath. Many complain that they are not able to take a deep breath, and six in ten will also complain of pain in their lower backs. If the disease is allowed to progress, this pain will often spread up towards the shoulders.
When a person who has pleural mesothelioma seeks medical attention, they will likely end up going through a battery of diagnostic tests to try to identify what is going on with them. It is generally when they have an X-ray or some other type of imaging that pleural plaques are seen and physicians realize the seriousness of what is going on.
Some of the most common and troubling symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Collapse of the lung
- Coughing up blood
- Blood clots in veins or arteries
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphasia)
- Swelling in the face and arms
Peritoneal Mesothelioma and its Symptoms
Unlike pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma impacts the lining of the organs in the abdomen. It is thought that pleural mesothelioma comes from having ingested or swallowed asbestos fibers, while pleural mesothelioma comes from having inhaled the fibers. Peritoneal mesothelioma is rarer than pleural mesothelioma, and is characterized by symptoms that include:
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Buildup of fluid in the abdomen
- Masses of tissue in the abdominal area
- Unexplained weight loss
- Difficulty breathing
- Physical weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Night sweats and fevers
When a patient seeks medical treatment for these symptoms, it is not uncommon for a physician to first assume that they have some kind of stomach virus, or even a hernia or obstruction in the bowel. It is only when appropriate tests are done that the disease is diagnosed: usually the confirmation of peritoneal mesothelioma comes when fluid is drawn from the abdomen and examined in the laboratory for the presence of the rare form of cancer.
Other Types of Mesothelioma and Their Symptoms
Though pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma are the most commonly diagnosed forms of the rare disease, some people who have been exposed to mesothelioma are diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma, which impacts the mesothelium that surrounds the heart, or testicular mesothelioma, which impacts the mesothelium that surrounds the testes.
Patients who have been diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma are extremely difficult to treat, as the tumors are difficult to target because of the proximity to the heart. The symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma include wheezing, chest pain, fatigue and fever, and diagnostic imaging generally reveals a thickening of the pericardium. Testicular mesothelioma is even rarer, and the symptoms are generally restricted to tumors and masses. In both cases, scientists are uncertain as to how the asbestos fibers would infiltrate that part of the body; some believe that when mesothelioma is found in these areas it has actually broken off and traveled there from the peritoneal cavity or pleural cavity. In both cases, survival is rarely longer than two years.
Mesothelioma is a disease that has an extremely long latency period. This means that it can take an extremely long period of time between when the exposure to asbestos takes place and when symptoms of the disease begin to appear. In many cases, patients are not diagnosed with mesothelioma until decades after they have worked with asbestos, and the average time span between exposure and symptoms appearing runs between thirty and fifty years. This can often contribute to the difficulty in diagnosing mesothelioma, as patients sometimes do not remember that they worked with the toxic material. If you know that you worked with asbestos at some point in the past, or if you lived in an area that was close to an asbestos company or mine, it is imperative that you notify your physician of this fact. The more that they know about your personal history, the more quickly they will be able to diagnose and treat you should symptoms arise.
Working with Your Physician
If you are aware that you worked with asbestos or were exposed to it at some point in your life, then it is important that you take any symptoms that you experience very seriously. Not only do you need to make certain that your medical records include the fact that you have been exposed to asbestos, but you must make an appointment as soon as symptoms arise, and schedule yourself for regular checkups.
If You Are Diagnosed with Mesothelioma
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, then it is important to make sure that the physician or facility where you are being treated has experience and extensive knowledge of the disease. The nation’s leading cancer centers often have specialized mesothelioma treatment teams, and have the most success at providing you with the best quality of life and survival times. If you do not have a major medical center near your home, it is generally worth your while to seek out a medical center that has been designated by the National Cancer Institute as a leader in the field. These treatment centers are on the cutting edge of treatment options.
Help for Mesothelioma Patients
In most cases, patients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos as a result of negligence on the part of an asbestos company, and are therefore entitled to financial compensation for the cost of treatment and other damages that they have suffered. For more information on what reimbursement you may be eligible for, call 1-800-706-5606, or send for our free Financial Compensation Packet.