Treatment Options for Mesothelioma
A classic roof made in asbestos
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that typically affects people with a history of exposure to asbestos. The disease develops in themesotelium, a protective lining that covers important internal organs such as the pleura, peritoneum and pericardium. The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelium affecting the lung's pleura and therefore causing cancer in the lung.
Asbestos was an industrial product that was widely used in the 20th century, however, only lately it was discovered how dangerous inhaling its fibers may be. People most commonly diagnosed with mesothelioma are therefore industrial workers who were routinely exposed to asbestos, however, there have been cases where the family of such workers were affected as well, since the fibers were easily carried from work to home.
Many World Trade Center rescuers after 9/11 may have been exposed to asbestos from the building's debris. According to asbestosnews.com, an estimated 100,000 people may have suffered serious exposure including 4,000 first responders, 80,000 tower workers and 30,000 Lower Manhattan residents. The first 9/11 victim, EMT Deborah Reeve died of mesothelioma in early 2006.
What makes this disease quite challenging to treat is that the symptoms mostly occur when the disease is already in its late stages and the disease itself manifests many years after the exposure to asbestos. While there is really no treatment for this serious disease, there are however many ways to manage it and improve the over all quality of life.
Treatment Options for Mesothelioma
Good candidates for surgery are those who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma in its earliest stages. Unfortunately, most cases are diagnosed when it is too late, and the cancer has spread causing the disease to reach its late stages (stage three and four). In order to be curative, the surgery would have to take place during stage one or two.
Chemotherapy takes place when a patient is injected with intravenous drugs that combat cancer cells that are rapidly dividing and multiplying. However, the biggest disadvantage is that these drugs also kill many of the healthy cells as well, creating many unwanted side effects. At this time, there are more promising chemotherapy drugs to fight mesothelioma than in the past.
Radiation therapy just as chemotherapy aims to kill cancer cells and prevent the cancer from spreading, however in this case beams of radiation are used instead of drugs. The traditional form of radiation used to fight mesothelioma is external beam radiation therapy, however, another form of radiation therapy known as brachytherapy, which provides concentrated doses of radiation with limited tissue damage, is gaining popularity.
There are also options for those looking for alternatives to the most traditional treatments. Photodynamic therapy may benefit those with localized cancer. This form of therapy involves the use of light energy to kill the malignant cells. Gene therapy on the other hand, uses genetic material to make cancer cells more vulnerable so to benefit better from chemotherapy. There are also many clinical trials open to patients affected with mesothelioma. Such trials play a very big role in the effort put in finding a cure for this devastating disease.
But what are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?
While Mesothelioma may take many years to cause symptoms to arise (often 20 to 50 years), once there, most affected patients will be able to recognize them. However, more often than not, serious symptoms tend to arrive when the disease has already reached its late stages. Following are some symptoms of mesothelioma.
Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma
- Shortness of breath
- Dry cough
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty Swallowing
- Night sweats
- Lower back pain
- Persistent Cough
- Weight Loss
Most of the above symptoms derive as a result of the thickening of the pleural membrane and the build up of fluid, which together affect the overall respiratory function. People who have (but even who have not) a history of being exposed to asbestos and develop such symptoms should see a doctor right away.
The following information is for educational purposes and should not be used as a replacement for medical advice. People exposed to asbestos or exhibiting symptoms of mesothelioma should seek out immediate medical advice.