Defining Mesothelioma

Mesotheliomas are primary benign or malignant tumors arising from the surface lining of the pleura or peritoneum. Eighty percent of reported cases of mesotheliomas affect the pleura, or the thin membrane that covers the lungs and heart. The remaining 20% of the cases affect the peritoneum. More often than not, this disease is a result of chronic exposure to asbestos – a fibrous, heat-resistant compound used in building construction materials, textiles, missile and jet parts, and brake linings. If you have been affected by asbestos exposure, there are numerous legal resources available to assist you. The malignant form of mesothelioma may actually take up to 30 years to develop.

The onset of symptoms of mesothelioma is usually at about 60 years of age. These symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, and weight loss. Patients may also present abdominal pain, bowel obstruction, and ascites or swelling of the abdomen due to the accumulation of serous fluid in the peritoneal cavity.

Diagnosing Mesothelioma can be difficult, as the patients may have symptoms, which are similar to other diseases. A physician must be able to review the patient’s medical and occupational histories thoroughly. X-rays and lung function tests are also performed. Radiographic abnormalities may consist of unilateral pleural thickening with varying degrees of pleural effusion. CT scans may help in determining the extent of pleural involvement. Pleural biopsy may also be necessary for histologic diagnosis.
Malignant mesothelioma spreads very quickly. It may eventually extend beyond the thorax into the abdomen, causing involvement of the abdominal organs and lymph nodes. This leads to progressive pain and dyspnea. Unfortunately, the conventional treatment for tumors, consisting of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or the combination of these methods, has been tried. However, they came up generally ineffective and unsuccessful. Some surgeons suggested that extrapleural pneumonectomy may be effective if the disease is still in its early stage. Drainage of pleural effusions, radiotherapy, and resectional therapy are also suggested. Nevertheless, all of these treatments rendered to patients with these diseases are only palliative in nature. They only relieve the symptoms, but the disease is not actually eradicated or cured.

The prognosis of this disease is very poor. The survival time from the onset of symptoms is 16 months, if the disease is localized. It is only 5 months, if the disease is already extensive. About 75% of patients with this disease die within 1 year after diagnosis.

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