Mesotheloma in Q&A

Friday, April 8, 20110 comments


1. What is the mesothelium?

Membrane which protect most internal body organ

2. What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelium. Like most cancers, mesothelioma involves the abnormal dividing of cells of a particular part of the body -- in this case, the mesothelium. Mesothelioma is so deadly because it remains dormant for many years and then begins to rapidly expand. The cancer then begins to invade and damage nearby tissue, including the vital organs.

3. How common is mesothelioma?

mesothelioma is still a relatively rare cancer.

About 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States each year.

4. What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?

Pleural mesothelioma - cancer of the pleura or lung lining - causes

shortness of breath or chronic coughing

chest pain

chronic coughing

shortness of breath

fatigue, wheezing

hoarseness, weight loss, or blood in the phlegm from the lungs when coughing.

Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include

pain or swelling in the abdomen

weight loss, bowel obstruction, anemia, and fever.

Many of the symptoms of mesothelioma can easily be mistaken for allergies or a common cold. Mesothelioma is often discovered when patients think they have one of these other common illnesses.

5. How is mesothelioma diagnosed?

Mesothelioma is often not diagnosed until it reaches an advanced stage. This is because of its long dormancy period, and because once it becomes active the initial symptoms are similar to much more comman and less dangerous sicknesses such as colds or the flu. If a patient has a history of exposure to asbestos, then a complete physical examination is advised. This would normally include x-rays of the chest or abdomen and lung function tests. It might also include a CT (or CAT) scan or an MRI. Both of these tests give detailed pictures of areas inside the body.

If these tests indicate the probability of mesothelioma, then it is necessary to perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. Doing a biopsy involves an oncology specialist taking a small sample of affected tissue and examining it under a microscope for signs of malignancy. Depending on the location of the affected tissue, doing a biopsy can be a relatively traightforward procedure. It normally involves the insertion of a small instrument into the suspect cavity. These surgical devices have both viewing and sample taking capabilities. So the oncologist or surgeon can look at the cavity from the inside, and then take tissue samples from different areas.

If mesothelioma is discovered, the initial tests are followed up with what is called "staging". This involves more tests to determine how far the disease has spread.

6. How is mesothelioma treated?

Treatment for mesothelioma depends on the location of the cancer, the stage of the disease, and the patient's age and general health. Standard treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Sometimes, these treatments are combined.

• Surgery is a common treatment for mesothelioma. The doctor may remove part of the lining of the chest or abdomen and some of the tissue around it. For cancer of the pleura (pleural mesothelioma), a lung may be removed in an operation called a pneumonectomy. Sometimes part of the diaphragm, the muscle below the lungs that helps with breathing, is also removed.

• Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, involves the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy affects the cancer cells only in the treated area. The radiation may come from a machine (external radiation) or from putting materials that produce radiation through thin plastic tubes into the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy).

• Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Most drugs used to treat mesothelioma are given by injection into a vein (intravenous, or IV). Doctors are also studying the effectiveness of putting chemotherapy directly into the chest or abdomen (intracavitary chemotherapy).

To relieve symptoms and control pain, the doctor may use a needle or a thin tube to drain fluid that has built up in the chest or abdomen. The procedure for removing fluid from the chest is called thoracentesis. Removal of fluid from the abdomen is called paracentesis. Drugs may be given through a tube in the chest to prevent more fluid from accumulating. Radiation therapy and surgery may also be helpful in relieving symptoms.

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