Mesothelioma Overview

When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they penetrate different areas of the body, causing both scaring and genetic damage to cells. Over time, the asbestos fibers disrupt the normal process of cell division and replication and, eventually, can cause cancer. Mesothelioma is an aggressive, incurable form of cancer that is only caused by asbestos. The risk of developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure is dose dependent-the greater the asbestos exposures, the greater the risk. For most individuals, the main source of asbestos exposure is occupational. However, exposure to asbestos is also common from non-occupational exposure, neighborhood exposures, and para-occupational exposure (contamination in the family home from asbestos from work clothes).

Types of Mesothelioma

Pleural Mesothelioma - The most common form of mesothelioma causes tumors to develop in the pleura, which is the very thin organ that surrounds and protects the lungs, and that separate the lungs from the chest wall. The pleural is made up of mesothelial cells. Typically the tumor will spread to surround and crush the entire lung and can also spread to invade the pericardium (identical tissue that surrounds the heart), peritoneum (identical tissue that surrounds the abdomen), or pleural surrounding the other lung. Usually, the tumor growth is accompanied by severe pleural effusion, or fluid buildup.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma - This form of mesothelioma occurs in the peritoneum, the lining surrounding and protecting the organs in the abdomen, which is also made up of mesothelial cells.

Pericardial Mesothelioma - This rare form of mesothelioma occurs in the pericardium, the lining surrounding the heart. Because symptoms resemble heart conditions, many diagnoses come late or not at all.

Testicular (Gonadal) Mesothelioma - This rarest form of mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the testicles or scrotum, because it is essentially an extension of the peritoneum.

Each of these four types of mesothelioma can have various sub-cell types, the most common of which are epithelial, desmoplastic, biphasic, sarcomatoid, and papillary.

Diagnosing Mesothelioma

Because it takes many genetic errors before a damaged cell eventually become a cancer, it usually takes somewhere between 10 to 80 years after asbestos exposure for these mesotheliomas to develop. This latency period can make it challenging for doctors to diagnose mesothelioma patients, and it is often misdiagnosed by inexperienced physicians. If you have been exposed to asbestos and experiencing symptoms of mesothelioma, working with mesothelioma experts can help you be certain. An expert physician will create a diagnostic plan, which can include:

  • History of asbestos exposure
  • X-rays
  • Computed Tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI)
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan
  • Tissue and fluid sampling

Mesothelioma Prognosis and Treatment

Even with the latest medical advances, mesothelioma has a poor prognosis with the survival rate still averaging 18 months after a diagnosis. Survival rates vary from patient to patient and are based on a variety of factors such as the stage of the disease, the type of mesothelioma, cell sub-type, operability of the tumor(s), general health status of the patient, patient's age, and the doctor's treatment plan. There are very few treatment options, but different treatments will attempt to make patients more comfortable and in a few cases, prolong their lives.

  • Surgery - For relatively younger and relatively healthier mesothelioma patients, surgery to remove the tumor, and/or surgery to remove the entire lung is an option. While this has significantly prolonged the life of some patients, on average surgery is not effective in improving prognosis.
  • Chemotherapy - Advances in genetic mapping of tumors has led to reasonable success with chemotherapy that specifically targets certain tumor genes. While not a cure, this treatment has been the most effective at prolonging the life of mesothelioma patients.
  • Angiogenesis and anti-angiogenesis drugs - Chemotherapy's severe side effects have led to continued research in learning more about the difference between cancer and normal cells. Drugs have been discovered that target the tumor(s) without affecting the body's normal cells.
  • Gene therapy - Gene therapy can work to change the genetic code that predisposes cells to become cancerous. It is a risky and new form of treatment.
  • Immunotherapy - Research shows that the immune system may be able to recognize the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells, eliminating cells that can become cancerous. This type of biological therapy uses the body's immune system to protect itself against mesothelioma and repair, stimulate or enhance natural anticancer functions.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT) - The premise of this treatment is that single-celled organisms will die with exposure to light at a particular frequency. Photosensitizing drugs accumulated in body tissues are activated to destroy cancerous cells.
  • Other clinical trials - Research and development of new drugs and treatments are continually being explored, and it may be beneficial to sign up for a clinical trial to help fight your asbestos-related disease or cancer.
  • Alternative therapy - Traditional medical treatment combined with alternative forms of therapy can be ideal for those diagnosed with mesothelioma. Alternative options include acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractic care, healing and therapeutic touch therapy, herbal and nutritional supplements, naturopathy, personal fitness and training.

Legal Options for Mesothelioma Patients

Filing a claim with an experienced asbestos and mesothelioma law firm is the most optimal way to find out if you and your family members are eligible for compensation. While treatment and general medical expenses for mesothelioma patients can be very high, it is the goal of our attorneys to ease some of the burden of medical expenses and help create a more secure future for those affected by mesothelioma. Call Brayton Purcell LLP today at 800-598-0314 for a free consultation.