Pleural mesothelioma is a type of asbestosis that presents in the cells that makes up the lining of your lungs. This lining is called the pleura. In the United States this disease is caused only by exposure to asbestos. If you worked with asbestos, or asbestos products such as chysotile, crocidolit, or amosite you are at risk of developing pleural mesothelioma. If you now have been diagnosed with the disease, you were probably exposed to asbestos about twenty years prior to diagnosis.
Fortunately, some people are diagnosed early with pleural mesothelioma before having any symptoms because tumors were visible on a routine chest X-ray. There is a cancerous and a non-cancerous form of pleural mesothelioma. Of course, the best kind to have, if you have to have it is the non-cancerous kind. This is called benign mesothelioma and it is not usually life-threatening and is not usually caused by exposure to asbestos. This form of mesothelioma can be removed surgically. However, the cancerous kind is called malignant mesothelioma, which involves the entire pleural lining, and it is found in approximately 2.000 people in the United States each year.
The signs and symptoms of this disorder do not show up for years after exposure, but when they do, your symptoms might be complaints of lower back pain, shortness of breath, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, a persistent cough, chest pain, and difficulty in swallowing. You could have one, or any of these symptoms or even all of them.
If your doctor suspects mesothelioma he/she will set about to confirm the diagnosis. Chest X-rays may have already been done, so there may also be a CT scan done just to verify the X-ray. Then the doctor will do a brochoscopy, which is the insertion of a tube that is equipped with a camera and surgical equipment. The doctor can then visualize the tumors from the inside of the lungs and snip off pieces of the tumors and lesions so they may be studied by the pathologist.
If you have a history of working with asbestos and asbestos products and you come to your doctor with symptoms, your doctor can suspect you have mesothelioma during the routine examination-It is common to have pleural effusion, which is a build up of fluid within the lungs. The lungs become edematous (swell) and this movement of fluid can be heard by the doctor who is listening to you breathe under the stethoscope. Some patients can have such serious effusion that they can be heard without a stethoscope and they almost sound like they are bubbling on the inside-however a final diagnosis cannot be made until a biopsy is obtained. The pathologist has to prepare the samples with a special stain to be visualized under a microscope. The pathologist will be able to tell which kind of mesothelioma it is (cancerous or not) and he will be able to stage it if it is cancerous.
When symptoms develop much of the pleura may be involved with tumors. As the tumors grow they crowd against the lung tissue. The tumors cause thickening of the pleura so there is little elasticity in the pleural cavity. The lungs become pressured and they cannot expand. The person with this disease becomes very short of breath. The tumors can also grow outward and invade the chest wall and ribs. This is a very painful disease at this point. The patient’s lung function drops drastically over time and the patient slowly suffocates.
Not much is known about how the asbestos changes the cells in the pleural cavity. It isn’t known if just one fiber of asbestos causes a tumor or if long time exposure to asbestos causes the cells to change into tumors. There are now laws in place to protect people who have contact with asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that is part of our environment. People who tear down old houses may come into contact with asbestos fibers because asbestos was once used in roofing and flooring materials. If you have a job that puts you in contact with asbestos it is imperative that you wear protective clothing and a mask.
Asbestos fibers are shaped similarly to a fish hook. The fibers are barbed and once the fibers pierce a part of your anatomy the fiber is there and will not come out. Mesothelioma can present in most any part of your body. Wherever asbestos causes irritation can be an area that the disease presents. If you swallow asbestos it can get into your stomach, you breathe it and it gets into your lungs. If you are not wearing protective clothing, asbestos can get into your skin folds. Males can get asbestos in their testicles. It is important to heed safety regulations when working with asbestos.
The non-malignant type of mesothelioma of the pleural tissue can be removed with surgery, but the malignant type may be treated with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. There is no cure for malignant pleural mesothelioma. Some people have a 5 or a 10 year survival rate, but sadly, some die after a few months of diagnosis. The average survival time for a person after diagnosis with no surgical intervention is one year. Some patients benefit from a surgical procedure called debulking, which is a removal much of the bulkiness of the tumors. This makes more room within the pleural cavity, which in turn gives the lungs more space, and it relieves a great deal of pain the patient may have been experiencing due to the pressure exerted onto the lungs and the rib cage.
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