As one of the most potentially aggressive and malignant groups of cancer, and the recent increase of diagnosed cases, mesothelioma is a valid concern for many people. This is especially true for those who came into contact with asbestos through their employment, up to 50 years ago.
Many times, patients will discuss their new diagnosis of ‘mesothelioma’ as if it is only one disease. However, mesothelioma is actually a small group of diseases, named for their location in the body. Of these, the most common form is pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in mesothelium (or lining) of the lung or chest area. This form of mesothelioma has been proven to be almost exclusively the result of exposure to asbestos. After exposure, it take anywhere from a few years to upwards of 50 years before the disease develops.
Mesothelioma and Asbestos
One of the most plentiful natural minerals used in the U.S. is called asbestos. This fiber-like material is not only readily available in nature – found in 20 states – it is also cheap, durable, and versatile. Asbestos has valuable characteristics such as resistance to heat, flames, electricity, and chemicals, which made it a prime ingredient for safety clothing and equipment in U.S. manufacturing for several decades.
Unfortunately, the very thing asbestos was meant to do – increase worker safety – was the reason it became one of the most tragic stories in American history. After decades of using the mineral for safety products, scientists confirmed their worst fears: asbestos is highly carcinogenic (cancer-causing). B
y then, hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers had been directly exposed to asbestos through their daily employment, such as miners, construction workers, military members, first responders, plumbers, and more. Even housewives and children were susceptible, due to the presence of asbestos in numerous household products such as flooring, insulation, and children’s toys.
After patients receive the diagnosis of mesothelioma, they typically ask about a plan for the mesothelioma prognosis. Although every patient’s case is different, there are some common stages the disease progresses through. The classification of mesothelioma is commonly done through use of the TNM staging system, named for the three factors used to classify the progression of the disease: T for tumor, N for node, and M for metastasized.
The tumor classification is a number from 0 to 4, depending on the severity of tumor involvement. The node classification ranges from X to 3, depending on lymph node involvement. The metastasized classification is either 0 for none or 1 for yes. The results are combined, and compared to a chart, for final designation of Stage I, II, III, or IV (with IV being the worst).
Treatment for Mesothelioma
Many patients are not encouraged by the discovery that there is no cure for mesothelioma. However, there are many progressive treatments available to patients, which were not an option in the past. The more traditional treatment methods of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery are still available.
But patients in Stage I or II now have the additional option of something called multi-modal therapy, which combines several treatments into an effective tool to improve the patient’s symptoms and extend their life. The different forms of non-traditional treatment used in multi-modal therapy can include immunotherapy, gene therapy, and photodynamic therapy.
Although patients in Stage III or IV usually cannot take advantage of these options, medical professionals have a wealth of options for effective management of pain and control of symptoms to make the patient more comfortable.