Mesothelioma is a type of rare cancer caused by inhaling asbestos. Cancer affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen. The rarity of this cancer can be gauged from the fact that not more than 3000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year in the country. Read on to know the causes, symptoms, and possible treatments for mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is primarily caused by ingesting or inhaling asbestos fibers that get lodged in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. The fibers cause inflammation due to scarring, causing mesothelioma cancer. The toxic chemical compounds of asbestos interfere with cell division, damaging the DNA and making it vulnerable to mutation.
The type of mesothelioma depends on the location of the embedded asbestos fibers. While peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdomen, pleural mesothelioma develops in the chest wall or the lining of the lungs. Pericardial mesothelioma develops in the lining of the heart. Occupations with high exposure to asbestos include asbestos miners, mechanics, oil refinery workers, power plant workers, railroad workers, construction workers, shipyard workers, firefighters. Individuals working in these occupations have a higher risk of suffering from mesothelioma.
Household products such as talcum powder, potting soils, and certain paints have been found to contain traces of asbestos, which increases one’s risk of developing mesothelioma. Also, individuals with a mutation in the BAP1 gene stand a high risk of developing mesothelioma.
It is difficult to diagnose mesothelioma in the earlier stages due to common symptoms. Misdiagnosis can cause this cancer to go undetected for up to 30 years, which is why mesothelioma is typically diagnosed in men above 60 years of age.
- A person with pleural mesothelioma may experience chest pain, persistent dry cough, fatigue, pleural effusion (fluid build-up in lungs), and hemoptysis (bloody cough).
- Peritoneal mesothelioma causes symptoms like anemia, hernia, nausea and vomiting, abdominal swelling due to peritoneal swelling, fever, and night sweats.
- A person with pericardial mesothelioma may exhibit symptoms like chest pain, heart murmur, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), heart palpitations, and night sweats.
Surgery is recommended for patients with stage 1 and 2 cancers. Here, the tumor is localized. In this case, two types of surgeries are performed: Therapeutic surgery is administered to simply remove the localized tumor. This treatment lets the patient return to health sooner, improving quality of life. Cytoreductive surgeries are performed, followed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy to remove cancer as much as possible. This also helps in preventing recurrence. Palliative surgery is an option for patients with stage 3 and 4 mesothelioma cancer. The surgery involves the removal of fluid build-up in the lungs, abdomen, or heart. This helps in relieving symptoms such as chest pain, abdominal pain, and difficulty in breathing.
It is typically administered to patients who are diagnosed with an advanced stage of mesothelioma cancer. Once cancer metastasizes, it reaches different parts of the body through the lymphatic system. Medicines used in chemotherapy prevent the spreading of cancer by killing malignant cells or inhibiting its growth by stopping cell division. However, chemotherapy medications also kill normal cells along with malignant cells. This can cause tissue or muscle degeneration and harm organs. Hence, it is important to be aware of its side effects and assess a patient’s overall health before administering the medicines. Systemic chemotherapy might be administered intravenously, whereas intracavitary chemotherapy is administered during surgery as it is injected directly into the tumor.
- Radiation therapy
This type of treatment is used when the cancerous tumors cannot be removed surgically or if the cancer cells have spread to distant parts of the body. Radiation therapy might also be used to shrink the tumor before removing it surgically. High energy x-ray beams are incident on the target area that specifically kills cancer cells by damaging its DNA, which prevents further metastasis.
While there are home remedies in the form of foods that have anti-cancer effects, these alone cannot prevent or treat mesothelioma. Foods such as berries, garlic, pumpkin seeds, green tea, carrots, and spinach can be taken along with conventional treatment methods to inhibit cancerous growth. However, it is important to consult a doctor to avoid unexpected side effects.