Mesothelioma Types, Diagnostic Procedures, Treatment Options & Clinical Trials
Four Types of Mesothelioma
In mesothelioma patients, cancer cells grow without control or order and spread along the surface of internal organs. The most common areas for mesothelioma cancer to develop are:
- Membranes surrounding the lungs and chest (pleura), known as pleural mesothelioma
- Lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum), known as peritoneal mesothelioma
- Membranes surrounding the heart (pericardium), known as pericardial mesothelioma
- Membranes surrounding the testicles, known as gonadal mesothelioma
There are several ways to diagnose and treat mesothelioma. Although there is no cure at this time, there are ongoing clinical trials in an effort to discover new and more effective treatments for mesothelioma.
Human Pleural Mesothelioma Tumor
The mesothelioma tumor, white rind–looking margins surrounding the dark lung area, encases the lung causing decreased lung function.
When cancer cells develop in the pleura, it is called pleural mesothelioma. This is the most common type of mesothelioma. This disease causes severe respiratory problems and is almost always fatal. However, various treatments for pleural mesothelioma may improve longevity and the quality of life.
The early diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma can be difficult, as it shares symptoms with a number of other conditions. Common symptoms include:
- chest wall pain
- pleural effusion, or fluid surrounding the lung
- shortness of breath
- fatigue or anemia
- wheezing, hoarseness, or cough
- coughing up blood or blood in the sputum (spit)
Peritoneal mesothelioma is cancer of the peritoneum, which is the lining of the stomach or abdomen. The peritoneum is a membranous layer that is made up of two layers, the parietal layer and the visceral layer. These layers provide support and protection for abdominal organs and the abdominal cavity. Peritoneal mesothelioma makes up about 20%–33% of mesothelioma cases.
Pericardial mesothelioma is cancer of the pericardium—the thin lining that surrounds the heart. The pericardium keeps the heart contained within the chest cavity, preventing the heart from ever–expanding as blood volume increases. The most common clinical signs of pericardial mesothelioma are:
- constrictive pericarditis; a thickening of the pericardium that impedes diastolic filling of the heart
- pericardial effusion; an abnormal amount of fluid in the pericardial space, increasing pressure within the pericardium and subsequently the heart
- cardiac tamponade; a serious condition where increased pressures within the pericardium restrict movement within the heart, resulting in lower than normal blood output
- and heart failure caused by myocardial infiltration
Diagnosis for Mesothelioma
An asbestos victim generally does not develop pleural mesothelioma until decades after the first asbestos exposure. The initial symptoms are difficulty in breathing and chest pain. Other signs of pleural mesothelioma include hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and coughing up blood. Over half of the patients with pleural mesothelioma have pain in the lower back or at the side of the chest.
A physician may use x–rays, computed tomography or CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, or positron emission tomography (PET) scans to diagnose pleural mesothelioma. Tissue and fluid sampling is also helpful in determining the presence of mesothelioma. Doctors use both sampling and imaging techniques to make the mesothelioma diagnosis process easier and to help distinguish mesothelioma from other diseases such as lung cancer.
If you do have mesothelioma symptoms, your physician will ask for details about your exposure to asbestos and perform a complete medical examination before making a mesothelioma diagnosis. Even if you currently do not have mesothelioma symptoms, it is important to discuss any significant asbestos exposure with your doctor. This will help them carefully monitor your health and be on the lookout for the future development of mesothelioma.
Your choice for a mesothelioma treatment will be dependent on a number of factors, including: Stage of the cancer (how far has your mesothelioma developed), location of the cancer, the spread of the cancer, and the age and goals of the patient. Individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma are often given an expected survival rate of eight to twelve months, depending on how far the cancer has developed. If you have been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, you should consult a cancer specialist with expertise in mesothelioma. Treatment options include, but are not limited to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.
When you discuss mesothelioma treatment options with your doctor, ask about treatment side–effects, clinical trials, the stage of your cancer and how to handle the physical aspects of everyday living. Make sure your concerns and questions are addressed, including pain management.
Mesothelioma Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are research studies that answer specific questions about new treatments, including their safety and effectiveness. Some mesothelioma patients choose to participate in clinical trials for renewed hope and improved quality of life.
On the other hand, medicines given in clinical trials may involve serious side–effects or may not be effective. Before participating in any clinical trial, talk with your physician about whether this is the right course for you to take. To learn more about open mesothelioma clinical trials, see the ClinicalTrials.gov website.