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The Aftermath of a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

More than 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are reported every year in the United States. This accounts for anywhere between 14 and 30 out of a million people annually. Because of its severity and aggressive nature, a mesothelioma diagnosis can be one of the scariest and uncertain times in your life. Along with feeling frightened, shocked, and worries, you may also feel angry or even depressed as you begin to contemplate the seriousness of this diagnosis and what it means for you and your family.

Mesothelioma TestMesothelioma is especially frightening because it often isn’t diagnosed until the later stages. This is because the symptoms resemble those of other, less-serious illnesses. So when a patient is diagnosed, he or she is usually in stage two or three and faces a much tougher treatment battle. There are also is no known cure for mesothelioma at the moment and most treatment is meant to only prolong life or improve the patient’s comfort and overall quality of life. Unfortunately, an estimated 50 percent of all mesothelioma patients have a life span of only 8 to 18 months.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. By taking appropriate action and seeking the best medical treatment available, you may have a chance at treating your mesothelioma and extending your life from months to years. One of the biggest reasons patients feel overwhelmed or frightened is because they don’t have a clear knowledge or understating of mesothelioma. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, one of the best things you can do is learn as much as possible and speak with professionals.

One of the first things you should do after receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis is to seek a second opinion. Many patients do not think to get a second opinion because they trust their doctor or do not want to offend him or her by seeing someone else. Because this cancer is so rare and so life-altering, you need to get a second opinion before pursuing any treatment. If possible, your second opinion should be from a mesothelioma expert who has experience diagnosing and treating this form of cancer.

Along with seeking a second option, you should also make sure you are asking as many questions and finding out as much information as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor any question you have. By understanding your condition, you can better handle the treatment and everything else associated with mesothelioma.

One mistake many patients make is not pursuing medical treatment as soon as possible. You should begin treatment very soon after your diagnosis to maximize the potential for removing tumors, killing cancer cells, and prolonging life as much as possible. If you were diagnosed in the early stages of mesothelioma, you may be able to eliminate the cancer through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Treatment is still useful in the later stages of mesothelioma. Although the life expectancy is 13 months for Stage III and 6.5 months for Stage IV, treatment can help improve your overall quality of life and possibly even extend your time as much as possible.

Additionally, many mesothelioma victims can recover financial compensation to pay for medical bills, funeral costs, and other expenses by filing a mesothelioma lawsuit.

Detecting Mesothelioma: Symptoms and Warning Signs

Detecting symptoms of any disease or illness is essential in getting a timely diagnosis and receiving the necessary treatment as early as possible. This is no different for people suffering from mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of various organs in a person’s body, as treatment for this cancer is most effective early on and the prognosis for an affected person is substantially less positive when in the later stages of this disease.

CellUnfortunately, mesothelioma has a long latency period that can be anywhere from ten to forty years. As asbestos, mineral fibers that get inhaled or ingested and stuck in the lining of organs, is considered to be the most common cause of mesothelioma, this means that someone exposed to asbestos may not know they have developed this disease until decades after the exposure. Sadly, this often means that a person will not start showing signs of the cancer until it is in its later stages, making a person’s survival chances much lower. Additionally, even when a person does start exhibiting signs of the disease, the symptoms are often ignored as unimportant or insignificant or misdiagnosed as signs of a less serious illness, such as a cold.

Possible Signs of Mesothelioma

Although the signs of mesothelioma are hard to detect, there are certain symptoms a person can look for when they believe they may have mesothelioma. While there are some common symptoms that may manifest in anyone with this cancer, many of the signs are typically symptomatic of the specific form of mesothelioma that a person has. For example, if a person has pleural mesothelioma, the most common form of this disease that affects the lining of a person’s lungs, they may lower back pain, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. A lasting cough and coughing up blood may also be signs that a person has pleural mesothelioma. On the other hand, if a person has peritoneal mesothelioma, a form of mesothelioma that affects the lining of a person’s abdomen, they may show signs of stomach pain, significant weight loss, and vomiting.

Besides specific symptoms for certain forms of this cancer, there are some common symptoms that anyone with mesothelioma may experience, including the following:

  • Blood clotting disorders and problems – many people with mesothelioma experience trouble forming blood clots, which can lead to other serious health problems, such as anemia.
  • Anemia –it is common for people with mesothelioma to develop lower than average red blood cell counts, causing extreme fatigue and other health complications if left untreated.
  • Fluid effusion – this is a buildup of fluid that occurs in either the pleural or the pericardium
  • Weight loss – this symptom can be seen in patients with varying forms of the cancer, although it typically is most severe in those with peritoneal mesothelioma due to pain in the stomach and nausea. However, fatigue and other pain may cause people with other forms to lose weight as well.

While these and other symptoms of mesothelioma are often hard to detect or do not manifest until later stages of the disease, a person who shows any of these signs and has been exposed to asbestos should get checked immediately.

The Stages of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a very rare form of cancer that is typically found in people who have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos are mineral fibers that can cause tumors to form in the linings of organs when the fibers become lodged, or stuck, in the lining. Typically this type of cancer affects a person’s pleura, which is the lining of a person’s lungs. However, it can affect other organs in the body, such as the abdomen or heart. Because of how rare mesothelioma is, there is only a formal system for determining the stage of the disease in those diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, which is the form that affects a person’s lungs. However, because of how aggressive mesothelioma and how much more difficult it is to treat it in later stages, determining which stage a person’s cancer is in is extremely important.

The Differences between the Stages of Mesothelioma

AsbestosMesothelioma has a range of four stages, which are very similar between the three different systems that are used to determine which stage a person’s mesothelioma is in. These three systems – Buchart, TNM, and Brigham – are very similar, but do have slight variations in characterizing the stage of mesothelioma. For the Buchart staging system, which is the most used system for determining the stage of cancer, only focuses on the location of the primary tumor and not how large the tumor is, how many cancer cells there are, or the level of cancer. On the other hand, the TNM system determines stage based on the characteristics of the tumor, if the lymph nodes have cancer in them, and if the cancer has spread to other places in the body (metastasizing). The Brigham system is somewhat similar to the TNM system in that it uses these three factors to determine stage. However, it also uses the effectiveness and possibility of surgery to determine what stage a person is in.

While these stages vary depending on which system is being used, the following four stages are fairly characteristic for each stage:

  • Stage 1 – the tumor is only in one organ or place or has not spread to other tissues and organs. Usually when the cancer is caught in this stage, the tumor can be removed during surgery.
  • Stage 2 – in stage two, the cancer has usually grown and is likely to be in both sides of the pleura or to have gone into the lungs or diaphragm. Also, it may have spread into the lymph nodes. While surgery is possible at this stage, it’s much more complicated and getting the entire tumor is much more difficult.
  • Stage 3 – at this stage of the cancer, the tumor has usually invaded a whole section, such as the chest wall. Sadly, using surgery to remove the cancer is typically not an option at this point anymore.
  • Stage 4 –by this point, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, also known as metastasizing. It is usually in the lymph nodes as well as other organs, making surgery virtually impossible.

Although it is difficult to catch mesothelioma in the earliest stages, getting check regularly, especially after a person knows they’ve been exposed to asbestos, can give a person a better chance at catching it early on, making the prognosis better.

Treatment Options for Mesothelioma

As an extremely rare form of cancer, mesothelioma only affects a few thousand people per year. However, the reality of this disease is very prominent for those so affected, and finding treatment for the disease is usually the number one priority. Sadly, due to its rarity and aggressiveness, this type of cancer has not been thoroughly researched; thus, the best way to treat mesothelioma has yet to exactly be determined. This is especially true because of the varying stages of mesothelioma and how treatment needs to change based on the stage.

MesotheliomaDespite the lack of research into this problem, doctors have been working on determining the most effective ways to treat mesothelioma. While there is no cure for this disease, there are treatment options for those who have been diagnosed with this form of cancer. According to well-known doctors in the mesothelioma field, the goal of treatment is to prolong a person’s life as best as possible, while minimizing pain and suffering.

Varying Choices for Those Diagnosed with Mesothelioma

Just like other forms of cancer are treated through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, so too is mesothelioma when treatment is possible.

  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy involves using oral or infusion-based medications that are aimed at killing the cancer cells in a person’s body. This treatment options is used in conjunction with surgery, with people usually taking the medicine before and after. It is also used to help those who are unable to undergo surgery, whether due to the form and stage of cancer or poor health. Chemotherapy can be used to help improve a person’s quality of life as well.
  • Surgery – Surgery is typically only used in about 20% of patients who have the pleural form of mesothelioma. The reason for this is that catching mesothelioma early on is very difficult, due to its long latency period and vague symptoms that are often mistaken for other illnesses, and surgery is only beneficial / can be done when the tumor is in one place of the body and has yet to metastasize to other places. Additionally, surgery is only done when the person’s prognosis is fairly good, which typically means they are in an early stage and have good overall health otherwise. Surgery does not stop the tumors from reforming however; thus, other forms of treatment, such as radiation, are usually used in conjunction with surgery.
  • Radiation –Radiation is a form of treatment aimed at reducing the size of the tumor. However, it can be difficult to use this form of treatment as tumors are usually close to the heart or lungs, which could endanger these vital organs too much to use the high-dose radiation that is usually needed. There is a new form of radiation that can better target cancerous cells, rather than healthy ones, giving a person a better chance at reducing the tumor.

While treating mesothelioma is difficult, particularly in the later stages, it is necessary to giving a person the best chance at survival and in preserving their quality of life.