Malignant Mesothelioma – Symptoms and Treatment
What is malignant mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma is strongly linked with exposure to asbestos, particularly through inhaling asbestos ‘dust’ or fibres. Most cases of asbestos disease originate in the workplace. In the UK, those who removed asbestos such as laggers, construction workers and skilled tradesmen are in the high risk groups for asbestos related mesothelioma.
There have been some cases of mesothelioma where no firm link to asbestos can be found, but these are very rare. Asbestos fibres can be transmitted via clothes and other methods so people who might not have actually worked with asbestos could still be at risk.
According to the UK Government’s Health and Safety Executive:
- The total number of mesothelioma deaths has increased from 153 in 1968 to around 2400 in 2007.
- The expected number of deaths amongst males is predicted to increase to a peak of 2038 around the year 2016.
What are the symptoms?
Mesothelioma can take decades to develop, often between 15 and 50 years from the exposure to asbestos.
In the early stages, mesothelioma is hard to spot, even with a scan or x-ray. The disease affects the lining of the lungs or digestive tract and is often present as many small lumps throughout the lining. In addition, early symptoms can easily be misdiagnosed as a less critical condition such as asthma.
Both types of malignant mesothelioma can cause:
- Excessive perspiration
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Appetite and weight loss
- Difficulty breathing
- Pains in the chest
Pleural mesothelioma can cause:
- Pain in the wall of the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Anaemia (iron deficiency)
- Wheezing or a chesty cough
- Coughing up blood
Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms:
Peritoneal mesothelioma is much less common than pleural mesothelioma and is often in a late stage of development before symptoms occur. It is usually associated with a greater level of pain than pleural mesothelioma.
- Pain in the Abdomen
- Excessive fluid in the Abdomen
- Bowel problems
- Weight loss
Can mesothelioma be treated?
Despite progress in the treatment of cancer, malignant mesothelioma remains a terminal disease. The tumour’s location on the lungs is a hard area to treat and there are difficulties with screening and early diagnosis. However modern treatment methods can reduce a patient’s suffering and increase their expected life span.
In the UK, mesothelioma treatment can involve:
- Symptom control – this involves reducing the pain and discomfort caused by the symptoms of the cancer. This can involve using oxygen, painkillers, and removing fluid from the lungs or digestive tract.
- Surgery – in many cases an operation will take place to confirm the diagnosis and to judge the size and development of the tumour. Although major surgery can take place later on to remove the tumour, this is only appropriate in a small number of cases.
- Chemotherapy – cytotoxic drugs can destroy cancer cells. In mesothelioma treatment they can be used to try and shrink the tumour and reduce symptoms.
- Radiotherapy – high-energy radiation can be used to kill cancer cells, to try and reduce the size of the tumour. Radiotherapy is often used to ease pain and discomfort, and to stop the spread of mesothelioma following a biopsy or surgery.