What You Need to Know About Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, in which malignant or cancerous cells are found in the Mesothelium. The Mesothelium is a protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs. 

What Exactly Is the Mesothelium? 

The Mesothelium is a membrane composed of two layers of cells which covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body. One layer of cells surrounds the organ and the other forms a sac around it. A lubricating fluid is released between these layers by the Mesothelium that allows moving organs such as the heart and lungs, to move without any problems against adjacent structures.

The Three Types of Mesothelioma 
  • Pleural - Pleural disease can take 10 years or more for changes to appear. It is the most common form of Mesothelioma and is often seen in people who have been exposed to high levels of asbestos on the job. Pleural affects the thin membrane layer in the chest usually noticed by thickening or calcification of the pleural lining. Pleural disease is not considered fatal in most instances but it does have the ability to impair lung function and also confirms that a person has suffered significant asbestos exposure which puts them at a higher risk for developing more severe asbestos cancer. Pleural Mesothelioma originates in the pleura but quickly spreads to the outer chest wall, abdomen, and heart. Mesothelioma is usually fatal within 1 year of diagnosis. However early detection of cancer can lead to life-sustaining treatments.
  • Peritoneal - Peritoneal Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that occurs in the thin cell walls which surround the abdominal cavity or the peritoneum. It is known only to be caused by exposure to asbestos. Like Pleural Mesothelioma, the options for treatment are based on how early the disease is detected. Early on there is the possibility of surgery but as the disease progresses the only options are chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Symptoms can include stomach, chest, or abdominal pain. Suspicious hernias may actually be a pleural effusion caused by peritoneal tumor growth. This leads to a common misdiagnosis and patients usually undergo multiple imaging scans and a diagnostic biopsy before an official diagnosis can be made. 
  • Pericardial - Pericardial Mesothelioma is the rarest of the three. Cancer originates in the Mesothelium. While Pleural Mesothelioma accounts for about 70 percent and Peritoneal Mesothelioma accounts for about 20, Pericardial only accounts for 10 percent of all cases of Mesothelioma cancer. Like the other forms, Pericardial is only known to be caused by asbestos exposure.
What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring but toxic mineral that was used for commercial purposes. It is said to reach the abdominal wall by one of two methods, the first is through ingested asbestos fibers which are processed through digestion and become lodged in the peritoneum. Other methods are through the lungs and lymph nodes, by inhaling asbestos fibers. Pleura Mesothelioma is also known to metastasize directly into the abdominal cavity if it is not slowed.

Asbestos products were used extensively in the 20th century in a wide variety of applications. Most of these products were directly responsible for a person’s exposure to asbestos. Both the individual who manufactured the products as well as those who used them at commercial and industrial job sites including refineries, power plants, shipyards, steel plants, and more. Because many of the products were used in home constructions, some homes can also contain asbestos. Many companies continued to use the products even after learning about the potentially fatal risks of asbestos.

Can I Get Mesothelioma from Something Other than Asbestos?

At this time there has been no evidence that Mesothelioma can be caused by anything other than continued exposure to asbestos. While smoking cigarettes does not help if you are around asbestos, smoking does not have a direct link to causing Mesothelioma.

How Do I Find Out If I Have Mesothelioma?

The diagnosis of mesothelioma, in all cases, must be established by a biopsy of affected or suspicious tissues, and by a definitive microscopic examination by a trained pathologist. The biopsy will require an invasive procedure such as thoracoscopy and pleural biopsy, or laparotomy or laparoscopy. The removed tissue may be treated with special biological or chemical stains which are used to help the pathologist establish a solid diagnosis. The pathologist will check the rate of growth and biological virulence of the tumor which must be staged if possible by X-ray, Cat scan, MRI or other types of scans to clarify its location within the body and also to estimate the likelihood of the effective curative or palliative therapy. However, the staging of Mesothelioma by X-ray is often unreliable.

How Is Mesothelioma Treated?

Treatment options are depended upon the stage of cancer, its location, and the patient’s age and health. Standard treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

  • Surgery is the most common treatment of Mesothelioma if the disease is found in the early stages. The doctor may remove part of the lining of the chest or abdomen and some of the tissue around it. In some cases, a lung may be removed in some cases of Pleural Mesothelioma.
  • Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The radiation is produced from a machine or by putting materials that produce radiation through thin plastic tubes into the area where the cancer cells are found.
  • Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Most of the drugs given to treat Mesothelioma are given by injection into a vein(intravenous or IV). 

If you or a loved one has suffered Mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure and would like to discuss your legal options, call us at 916.921.6400 or 800.404.5400 to set up a FREE consultation.

Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 5.11.20]

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