What Is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma symptoms are the signs a mesothelioma cancer patient exhibits. They are differently characterized between the different types of organs cancer manifests itself in. at the beginning of the lifetime of mesothelioma cancer, the symptoms are mild, and one may rarely display signs of cancer.
However, as cancer progresses to the last stage, the symptoms are imminent and more severe. The average lifetime of a mesothelioma cancer patient is approximately 1-2 years.
Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor that affects the mesothelium, which is a lining that protects most of the internal organs in the body. The cancerous cells that attack the mesothelium duplicates and destroys the organ. They also metastasize to the rest of the organs as cancer becomes severe and affects them too.
The mesothelium comprises two layers – the inner layer that covers the organs and the outer layer that acts as a sac to the inner layer. In between the two membranes is a liquid that acts as a cushion and absorbs shock, thus protecting the organs and allows the organs to move with ease.
Types of Mesothelioma
Three common types of mesothelioma cancer affect the lining of the organs. Mesothelioma symptoms are distinctive in the different types of mesothelioma, although signs of more than one type can be exhibited in more than one organ is infected. The different types include:
This is cancer that attacks the lung membrane, known as a pleural membrane. It is the most common type, with new cases of cancer standing at 80%. It is difficult to diagnose this type of mesothelioma in the early stages since the symptoms are mild and start expressing themselves later.
Due to its late detection, most of the patients last for about 17months. For diagnosis, it requires a tissue biopsy to determine whether it is prevalent or not.
Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the abdomen membrane (peritoneum) that encloses the spleen, liver, and bowel. The most common sign of this type of mesothelioma is intense abdominal pains, followed by fluid buildup in the organs that accelerates the pain to greater heights. Unlike in pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms are present from earlier stages, making it easier to curb cancer before it worsens. It is responsible for 10% of mesothelioma patients. To detect the presence of the peritoneal mesothelium, a CT or MRI scan is required.
The most common cause is ingestion of fibers or the presence of fibers in the mouth, which are then transported to the abdomen area by swallowing food or saliva. The fibers are then adopted by mesothelial cells and activate oncogenes. The other cause of peritoneal mesothelium is the transfer of asbestos from the lungs traveling through the lymphatic fluid to the abdomen.
This is the other common type of mesothelioma cancer that destroys the pericardium membrane that protects the heart cavity. Its occurrence is rare and accounts for about 1% of mesothelioma cancer patients.
Pericardial mesothelium manifests itself in the human body when asbestos is inhaled, and some fibers from the lungs find their way into the bloodstream and finally into the heart cavity. It may also be contracted through asbestos emitted by the thoracic wall or lymph nodes.
To determine the presence of this type of mesothelioma cancer, a tissue biopsy is the best means; however, echocardiography will help determine the extent of thickening of the pericardium and whether it’s affecting heart function.
The Stages of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma cancer characterizes itself in four different stages, where each has its mesothelioma symptoms. The cancer is classified in each stage depending on its intensity and how far it has spread.
The only type of mesothelioma cancer that incorporates staging is pleural mesothelioma. As for pericardium and peritoneal mesothelium, there is not a conclusive staging system that has been established. Therefore, in this part, we will extensively look into each stage and the signs and symptoms illustrated in pleural mesothelioma tumors.
Stage 1 Mesothelioma
In the first stage, mesothelioma symptoms present themselves internally where the mesothelioma cells are evident around the lungs and in one side of the chest. As the first stage progresses, the mesothelioma cells move towards the outer layer of the pleural membrane but are still hosted on one side of the lungs.
They then proceed to the inner layer, still on one side of the chest. Basically, stage 1 is localized, and no metastasis has occurred. At this stage, the prognosis is high and curative surgery can be carried out.
Stage 2 Mesothelioma
The second stage of mesothelioma is characterized by the spread of the mesothelial cell on both layers of the pleura on one side. At this time, the tumor has become more prominent and has shaped into a mass of tissues present in the lungs.
Cancer may or may not have spread into the diaphragm or lung tissues. The Mesothelioma symptoms of stage 2 are also localized, and it has metastasized with minimal spread. Therefore, curative treatment is still viable for patients at this stage.
Stage 3 Mesothelioma
At stage 3, mesothelioma cancer has metastasized to various places close to the lungs, especially the heart’s lining (pericardium) and lymph nodes on the infected side. Curative surgery can still be done, but it needs a lot of consideration. The tumor is still on one side of the lungs, and the most advisable surgery includes nonsurgical and palliative that includes removal of any fluids that have accumulated in the lungs.
Stage 4 Mesothelioma
This is the last and final stage, and by now, the mesothelioma cells have widespread across the chest wall, making it difficult to carry out curative surgery.
In addition to that, the other side of the chest cavity becomes infected, and mesothelioma symptoms are now more conspicuous in the patient’s body. Affected areas include; the lymph nodes, blood vessels, and other organs such as the throat and heart. The most suitable treatment is palliative.
Mesothelioma Symptoms Cancer
Mesothelioma symptoms Based on different types of mesothelioma cancer.
Pleural mesothelioma symptoms
Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
Low oxygen levels
Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
Fever and night sweats
Fluid buildup (pleural effusion)
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms
Ascites (fluid buildup in the abdomen)
Anorexia (loss of appetite)
Blood clots (thrombosis)
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels)
Fluid buildup (peritoneal effusion)
Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms
Irregular heartbeat rate and palpitations (arrhythmia)
Coughing (with blood sometimes)
Fever and night sweats
Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
Mesothelioma Staging Systems
The staging of mesothelioma tumors includes three crucial systems that define each stage with specific character traits. These three systems include:
The Butchart System
The Butchart system was the first mesothelioma staging system that Dr. Eric Butchart developed in the year 1976. It is involved in staging the 4 stages and highly concentrates on the tumor location compared to the number and spread of the cancer cells in the patient’s body.
The Brigham System
Dr. David Sugarbaker developed the Brigham system while working at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard. It is lucrative at determining the four stages of mesothelioma symptoms and whether a patient can be surgically operated on to remove the tumor.
The TNM System
The TNM and Brigham systems are similar to each other in terms of the staging factors. However, the TNM system, which is commonly used, was developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC). It focuses on the tumor, the spread to the lymph nodes, and metastasis, which classify the cancer patient in one of the 4 stages.
Treatment of mesothelioma cancer is often based on the stage of cancer, the prevailing mesothelioma symptoms, the type of cancer, the location, and the patient’s overall health condition. All these are critical determinants on establishing a specific treatment and whether or not the patient is viable for curative surgery or not.
Chemotherapy is the widely used treatment for mesothelioma cancer and other types of cancers as well. It can either be administered by pill or through an intravenous drip. It functions by killing the cancerous cells in the body. Therefore, it is best applied before and after surgeries as well.
Radiation therapy, also referred to as radiotherapy, involves using ultraviolet light to kill cancerous cells and shrink them into smaller sizes. Alongside chemotherapy, they are often used throughout the lifetime of mesothelioma cancer, stage by stage.
Curative surgery is for patients whose mesothelioma symptoms have not intensified and are still in the first or second stage. It involves the removal of the tumor, which is a large mass of infected tissue cells.
Palliative surgery involves nonsurgical methods to remove fluid that has to build up in the various affected organs. This surgery aims to suppress the patient’s pain and the discomfort of mesothelioma symptoms. The common palliative surgeries include; thoracentesis for pleural mesothelioma, pericardiocentesis for pericardial mesothelioma, and peritoneal mesothelioma.
Clinical trials are trial and error methods that are carried out to determine whether the upcoming mesothelioma treatment function any better than those currently in use. For each treatment used to control mesothelioma intensity, it started as a clinical trial.