Mesothelioma Diagnosis and Treatment
Asbestos-related diseases can be challenging to diagnose and treat. One of the most serious of the asbestos-related illnesses is mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the protective lining of your internal organs.
This disease becomes dangerous when cancerous cells spread to other body parts. It can take decades before you notice the symptoms of mesothelioma. It usually takes several rounds of diagnostic tests, such as a biopsy or CT scan, before your doctor can confirm your illness.
If you believe that you or a loved one has developed an asbestos-related illness, you should contact a healthcare provider immediately. You should also speak to a personal injury lawyer to determine if you have a potential legal claim.
Types of Mesothelioma
Most of the research on this topic refers to the illness as mesothelioma. However, there are several types of mesothelioma. Your diagnosis and treatment plan will depend on the type of cancer you have.
The most common types of mesothelioma include:
- Peritoneal mesothelioma (Mesothelioma of the peritoneum)
- Malignant pleural mesothelioma
- Mesothelioma of the pericardium
- Testicular mesothelioma
- Mesothelioma of the mediastinum
To determine the exact nature of your illness, your doctor may want you to undergo a thoracotomy (thoracoscopic surgery), pleurectomy, pneumonectomy, or endoscopic surgery. They are looking for fluid buildup in your lungs or chest cavity.
Symptoms and Risk Factors of Mesothelioma
Depending on the type of mesothelioma, you will exhibit specific symptoms. If you identify any of these symptoms, inform your doctor immediately. These symptoms may be due to a benign cause such as asthma or chest cold. Or it could be something more serious.
Some of the symptoms of mesothelioma include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Lumps in your abdomen
Any of these things could be a sign of mesothelioma. Don't put off seeing your doctor. This is a fast-moving cancer, and early diagnosis is your best chance of extending your life or making a recovery.
If your healthcare provider suspects you have mesothelioma, they will usually ask you if you work with or near asbestos. This is because asbestos exposure is the number one cause of this form of cancer.
Once your doctor reviews your work history, they'll need to do a physical exam and run specific diagnostic tests. According to the American Cancer Society, these tests may include one or more of the following:
- Several types of biopsies: The doctor will use a small needle to sample tissue and fluid from your body. They will then look at the cells under a microscope to determine if any are cancerous. A surgical biopsy may require that you stay at least one night in the hospital. However, most biopsies are done quickly on an outpatient basis.
- Thoracentesis: The lab technician will take a fluid sample from your chest cavity and check for mesothelioma cells.
- Chest X-ray: This is another imaging test where the lab technician will take a picture of your chest to look for abnormalities or masses (tumors).
- Computer tomography (CT) scan: This test takes an x-ray of your body, split left and right. It can help determine if your cancer has spread or the tumors are shrinking.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: This test takes images of your soft tissue, using radio waves and strong magnets rather than an X-ray. The doctor will inject dye into your lungs, which travels through your body. Areas of concern will appear darker than other sections.
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET/CT) Scan: This test uses radioactive sugar to highlight cancer cells. Since these cells absorb more radioactivity, it will make them stand out to your oncologist.
- Blood tests: In some cases, your physician will order blood tests. These tests will look for high levels of fibulin-3 or soluble mesothelin-related peptides (SMRIs).
Depending on the results of these tests, the doctor may schedule follow-up tests later, or they may want to design a treatment plan immediately.
What Happens if the Test Results Are Suspicious?
If one or more of these tests identify something suspicious, your healthcare provider will likely recommend a second biopsy to confirm a diagnosis. A biopsy may be either a needle biopsy or an open biopsy.
In a needle biopsy, the lab technician removes fluid from your tumor and examines it for cancerous cells. In an open biopsy, a surgeon will make a small incision in the chest wall or abdominal cavity and remove a sample of tissue to examine for cancerous cells.
Once your pathologist obtains the fluid or tissue sample, they'll examine it to determine whether the cells have a type of cancer or disease.
After a positive mesothelioma diagnosis by the pathologist, your doctor will refer you to an oncology specialist to recommend an appropriate course of treatment.
Talk to Your Doctor About Asbestos Exposure
If your healthcare provider suspects you have mesothelioma or some other asbestos-related illness, they will attempt to identify the possibility of asbestos exposure. They'll review your medical, work, and environmental history.
If your doctor can confirm asbestos exposure through your job, you may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. You'll likely want to hire a personal injury attorney to handle your claim. You may receive significant compensation depending on the nature and extent of your illness.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options
If you receive a diagnosis of mesothelioma, your primary healthcare provider will refer you to an oncologist for treatment. An oncologist is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of cancer. Oncologists often specialize in certain types of cancer, so you should consider looking for those specializing in mesothelioma or lung cancer.
For a patient with a mesothelioma diagnosis, the treatment options depend on their overall health and the stage of their illness.
Doctors have developed three different staging systems for mesothelioma.
- Butchart System: This looks at the extent of the primary tumor mass
- TNM System: Consider the tumor's mass, lymph node involvement, and metastasis
- Brigham system: This looks at the ability to remove the tumors and lymph node involvement surgically
The stage of your illness will determine your treatment options.
Reviewing Your Treatment Options
After assessing your overall health and the stage of your disease, your oncologist will review the treatment options with you. Typically, these involve surgery, chemotherapy, clinical trials, or radiation.
Some oncologists may recommend immunotherapy or gene therapy in some instances. Generally speaking, isolated cancers are much easier to treat than cancers that have spread to different body parts (metastasized).
Because there are various treatment options available, don't hesitate to ask about the pros and cons of each option. Therapeutic methods constantly change, so finding the best treatment option for your situation can make all the difference.
Three Treatment Options for Mesothelioma Patients: Chemo, Surgery and Clinical Trials
There are a variety of treatment options for any type of cancer, including mesothelioma. Unfortunately, some treatment options are ineffective for this type of illness. For example, oncologists use radiation to shrink tumors. However, with mesothelioma, the tumors are not usually separate or distinct, so it's hard to direct the radiation to the tumors.
The various treatment options for mesothelioma include:
Your oncologist and care team will decide which measures they want to take to attack your cancer, but in some instances, the only remedies available are comfort measures, such as making you as comfortable as you can so you can enjoy your final days.
Palliative Care Options
If your cancer is untreatable, your doctor can use the above-described treatment options to delay death. Usually, they will offer palliative care toward the end so that you aren't in pain. It will also provide you with a better quality of life.
The palliative care options for mesothelioma patients include:
- Shunt placement: The shunt allows fluid to move from one body part to another.
- Catheter: One end of the catheter tube is in your chest or abdomen, and the other is outside your body. This allows the fluid in your lungs or chest to drain from your body.
- Pleurodesis: This keeps fluid from building up in your chest.
- Removing fluid: There are a few ways to remove fluid from your body. This includes thoracentesis, paracentesis, and pericardiocentesis.
- Pain management: As your illness worsens, the doctors and hospice workers will administer higher doses of pain medication to ease your discomfort.
Mesothelioma Recovery After Treatment
If you go into remission from mesothelioma, you will have to continue to get checked for years afterward. Your oncology team will monitor your cancer recurrence for many years. You may also have to live with significant lung problems.
Mesothelioma Diagnosis? Get Expert Legal Advice Today
If you receive a diagnosis of mesothelioma, treatment is often both physically and emotionally draining. It is also costly. By filing a mesothelioma claim, you or your loved one can receive compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
You may have a legal claim if you demonstrate that a third party is responsible for your illness. Your personal injury lawyer will pursue this third party for financial compensation.
Before moving forward with your claim, meet with an asbestos claim attorney.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
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