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Mesothelioma: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Updated: Nov 22, 2023


humna figure showing mesothlioma

Overview: What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare but aggressive form of cancer that affects the lining of majority of your internal organs such as lungs ( pleura) , abdomen ( peritoneum) , heart , your reproductive organs. This lining or membrane is called Mesothelium. Out of all these Malignant pleural mesothelioma (affecting the chest and lungs) is the most common type.

People exposed to asbestos particles are more likely to get this cancer, asbestos is a group of minerals made of microscopic fibers. They were very popularly used as fire resistant and for insulation in most of the insdustries such as construction, automotive, etc. When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can get lodged in the lining of organs, causing damage that leads to mesothelioma over time.



Types of Mesothelioma


1. Variations by Location and Nature

  • Malignant and Benign: Mesothelioma can be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Malignant mesothelioma is more common and serious and it requires aggressive treatment.

  • Pleural Mesothelioma: This type affects the pleura, the lining of the lungs. It's the most common form, and cause chest pain and difficulty in breathing.

  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma: This affects the peritoneum, the lining of the abdominal cavity. Symptoms often include abdominal pain and swelling.


2. Cell Types

  • Epithelioid: The most common cell type, known for a somewhat better prognosis than other types.

  • Sarcomatoid: Rarer and more aggressive, these cells are harder to treat.

  • Biphasic: A mixture of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. The prognosis and treatment depend on the ratio of the two cell types.


Affected Demographics


Who Does Mesothelioma Affect?

People who are exposed to asbestos for prolonged time are most affected by Mesothelioma. Its due to occupational exposure to asbestos particles which get inhaled while working in industries like construction, shipbuilding, and manufacturing using asbestos.

Industry and Demographic-Related Risks

  • Age and Gender: It's more common in older adults, typically diagnosed in people aged 60 and above. Men are more affected, as they work in industries where asbestos is manufactured.

  • Occupational Hazard: Workers in construction, plumbing, electrical work, and shipbuilding are at a higher risk, especially those who worked before stricter regulations were implemented in the late 20th century.

  • Geographical Factors: Certain regions with heavy industrial use of asbestos or natural asbestos deposits have higher rates of mesothelioma.


Prevalence: How Common is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is relatively rare compared to other forms of cancer. Its incidence is closely linked to the historical use of asbestos. In countries where asbestos use was widespread, such as the United States, Australia, and parts of Europe, the rates of mesothelioma are higher. Each year, about 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States. The incidence of mesothelioma has been somewhat stable or slightly declining in recent years, likely due to increased regulations and reduced use of asbestos.



Symptoms and Causes

General Symptoms of Mesothelioma

  • Chest pain or abdominal pain

  • Shortness of breath

  • Persistent cough

  • Fatigue

  • Weight loss

Specific Symptoms for Different Types of Mesothelioma

  • Pleural Mesothelioma: Difficulty breathing, chest pain, and a persistent cough.

  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma: Abdominal swelling, pain, and changes in bowel movements.

Causes of Mesothelioma

The primary cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos fibers. These fibers can be inhaled by individuals who are exposed to them, and they may become lodged in the linings of organs, leading to irritation. Over time, this continous irritation can lead to cancerous cells. Individuals who experience prolonged exposure to these fibers are at a higher risk of developing cancer.



Diagnosis and Tests


How is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

Diagnosing mesothelioma can be challenging because its symptoms often resemble those of other, more common conditions. The doctor usually begins with a through examination of the patient's medical history, particularly focusing on potential asbestos exposure, followed by a physical examination.

Tests Involved in Diagnosis

  • Imaging Tests: These may include X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs to detect abnormalities in the chest or abdomen.

  • Biopsy: A tissue sample from the affected area is crucial for a definitive diagnosis. This can be obtained through different methods, such as thoracoscopy for pleural mesothelioma or laparoscopy for peritoneal mesothelioma.

  • Blood Tests: While not diagnostic, certain blood markers can be elevated in mesothelioma and may aid in the diagnosis process


Physiotherapy Management


Pleural effusion, a common complication of mesothelioma where fluid accumulates around the lungs, can also be managed through physiotherapy. Techniques like chest physiotherapy and postural drainage are employed to ease breathing and assist in fluid drainage. Different coughing techniques are used by the physiotherapist to train the patients, so that they cough out the sputum in case of lung diseases.



active cycle of breathing technique flow chart

Pain Management

Many of the patients are in pain due to mesothelioma cancer, hence pain management plays an important role. Physiotherapist dealing with such cancer patients are well aware of there conditions and uses different exercises to alleviate pain and make there life better. They usualy address fatigue and pain, by making patient physicaly more active they can help to build up muscle, boost there mood, less dependent on painkillers.


A few research studies have shown some promising results. One such research study conducted in 2021 has shown that exercises can help halt or slow down the growth of cancer cells. When you exercise, your body releases myokines, which fight or even kill cancerous cells. This suggests that there is a high possibility that exercises, when combined with immunotherapy, can help treat cancer. That's why physiotherapy plays a crucial role




Most Common questions

Can mesothelioma be cured?

  • Answer: It's tough to cure mesothelioma because it's usually found late. Doctors try to treat it with surgery, medicines, or radiation, but these don't always get rid of it completely. Sometimes treatments can help people feel better and live longer.

What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?

  • Answer: Symptoms depend on where the cancer is. If it's in the lungs, you might have chest pain, cough, and trouble breathing. If it's in the belly, you could have stomach pain, swelling, or trouble going to the bathroom.

Is mesothelioma a common disease?

  • Answer: No, it's pretty rare. It mostly affects people who have worked around a lot of asbestos.

How is mesothelioma diagnosed?

  • Answer: Doctors use X-rays, scans, and sometimes take a small piece of tissue from your body to check if you have mesothelioma.

Can mesothelioma be prevented?

  • Answer: Yes, the best way to prevent it is to avoid asbestos. If you work with it, wearing protective gear and following safety rules is important.

What is the life expectancy for someone with mesothelioma?

  • Answer: It's different for everyone. It depends on how early the cancer is found and how it's treated. On average, people live about a year or two after they're diagnosed, but some live longer, especially if it's caught early.

Can family members get mesothelioma from someone who has it?

  • Answer: No, you can't catch mesothelioma from someone else. But families of people who worked with asbestos might have been exposed to it too, like from clothes or things brought home from work



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