The Hard Facts About Mesothelioma
While asbestos-related mesothelioma may not be as wide-spread as lung or breast cancer, this weakening disease has affected thousands of Americans throughout the last several decades. Caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers, mesothelioma – in its malignant form – is a fast-spreading, deadly cancer that has been found in individuals all around the world who’ve been exposed to this deadly mineral, used carelessly for years in many different industries, including shipbuilding and construction.
Technically, in mesothelioma, the cells of the mesothelium – the two-layered membrane that covers the internal organs of the body – become cancerous and grow out of control. This disease is most often of the pleural variety, affecting the membrane that covers the lungs, but can in scarce situations be found in the pericardium, the inner that covers the heart, or the peritoneum, that which covers the abdomen.
Who’s Been Exposed?
The material known as asbestos, which is naturally mined from the earth, was used in a variety of industries for decades. Most mesothelioma situations are a consequence of workplace exposure though there are a number of situations of mesothelioma caused by second-hand exposure.
Those at highest risk worked in such industries as shipyards, strength plants, steel mills, aluminum plants, automotive service centers, and construction companies, where the use of asbestos was most rampant because of its excellent insulating similarities. Those who worked in vermiculite or talc mines were also exposed to airborne asbestos fibers.
Though the dangers of breathing airborne asbestos fibers have long been known, many companies did virtually nothing to protect their employees from contracting asbestosis, other lung diseases, or the asbestos-related cancer known as mesothelioma.
Though the dangers of asbestos were made public in the mid 1970s and many industries stopped using the material, because the symptoms of meso can take 20-40 years or more to surface, many sufferers have only recently been diagnosed.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you know that you’ve been exposed to asbestos at the workplace or in other places, while it’s not advisable to panic, it is smart to be on the lookout for symptoms of mesothelioma so that it can be diagnosed as soon as possible. Early diagnosis prompts more treatment options. Symptoms of mesothelioma might include:
o Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
o Difficulty Sleeping
o Weight Loss
o Pain in chest and abdomen
o Fluid in the chest
Because these symptoms are often indicative of a number of other diseases, diagnosis can be difficult and often occurs during a routine exam or during a doctor’s visit meant to address a different concern. CT scans, MRIs, blood work, and biopsies will be used to make any final determinations.
Treatment of asbestos cancer can be tricky and is usually determined by a number of factors. While surgery may be a viable option in treating many cancers, the late diagnosis of most meso patients and the fast spread of the disease often method that surgery is not a useful treatment. Usually, patients with pleural, peritoneal, or pericardial malignant mesothelioma are treated with radiation or chemotherapy, depending on the stage of the disease, the patient’s age, and his/her overall health. Once a patient has reached Stage IV malignant mesothelioma, most doctors will recommend only palliative treatment, designed to keep the patient comfortable and pain-free.
A medical team, including an oncologist, experienced in the particulars of mesothelioma can best determine what treatment options are must for each individual cancer victim.
Though your doctor or nurse may not suggest them, different therapies are being sought out more and more by meso patients looking for pain relief or seeking other palliative measures. Many cancer sufferers consider acupuncture, hypnosis, meditation, and massage to help enhance their quality of life.
Dealing with the Diagnosis
While you may have recognized that you were at risk for contracting asbestos-related cancer, confirming the actual diagnosis will certainly be devastating. Be sure to gather as much information about the disease as possible and don’t hesitate to ask questions.
Those who contract the disease will confront a myriad of feelings, from disbelief and depression to fear and anger. While turning to family members for sustain is a good idea, many patients require assistance in the form of specialized counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, or clergy persons. Addressing the mental difficulties caused by the disease can be just as important as treating physical symptoms.
Because asbestos exposure is the only known cause of malignant mesothelioma, chances are that most meso victims will have a pretty substantial idea of where they contracted the disease. For many years, however, employees hid the dangers of working with asbestos, willingly exposing employees to this hazardous substance on a daily basis. In turn, those who worked with asbestos may have unknowingly exposed their family members in addition, bringing white asbestos dust into their homes on their clothes or bodies.
The asbestos cover-up affected many who could have been spared this horrifying disease if only employers would have admitted to the dangers. More and more meso sufferers have been filing lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers and workplaces whose unsafe products or work areas contributed to their disease. Asbestos-related cancer victims have the legal right to collect funds to cover medical bills, loss of income, and loss of quality of life. Many of those diagnosed have been able to collect funds to help with expenses. Mesothelioma victims should take time to find an attorney who’s well-versed as to the ins and outs of the disease and is abreast of the legal options obtainable to those whose life is threatened by asbestos-related cancer.