Although a relatively rare form of cancer, mesothelioma is usually quite aggressive and is an extremely serious medical condition. Those who are diagnosed with the illness, caused by past exposure to asbestos, often learn many years after the initial exposure that they have contracted the disease. By then, the condition has often progressed into its late stages and the prognosis includes a survival rate of one year or less. Exceptions have occurred where patients have survived a decade or more, although this is fairly rare. There is no known cure, but research and clinical trials continue to make advancements in this area.
Three Types of Mesothelioma
All types of mesothelioma are caused by previous exposure to asbestos, each classified by which body organ is initially infected. The most common form affects the pleural cell lining of the lungs, typically caused by inhalation of asbestos dust or fibers. The next most common type attacks the abdominal lining, known as the peritoneum, and is usually a result of having ingested asbestos. The third, called pericardial mesothelioma, establishes itself in the pericardium, which is the lining of the heart.
Basic Treatment Options
There are four stages of the disease. Those diagnosed with Stage 1 may be offered surgery to remove the tumors that have developed, often including removal of the diseased lung, the pleura, the diaphragm and the pericardium. Candidates for this type of surgery must be in good general health and the disease must not have spread to other parts of the body. The surgery is not meant to be a cure but may extend the patient's life expectancy. Traditional chemo and radiation therapies may also be prescribed to Stage 1 patients. Stage 1 diagnoses are rare because the latency period for mesothelioma is often decades. By the time symptoms attributable to the disease are discovered, it has usually progressed to advanced stages.
Stage 2 and 3 treatments often include chemo, radiation and draining of the fluids that commonly accumulate around the lungs and abdomen. These treatments are considered strictly palliative, undertaken as a means to ease symptoms, reduce pain and/or difficulty breathing and to bring comfort to the sufferer. The goal is to prolong the patient's life as much as possible and to offer an improved quality of life.
In Stage 4 victims, the disease has spread throughout their bodies and little can be done to prolong survival. Treatment options are directed exclusively as reducing pain and trying to help the patient remain as comfortable as possible.
A variety of non-medical treatments are available for mesothelioma victims and many using them have reported symptom relief and success in prolonging survival. These include:
- Nutritional and herbal supplements
While prognoses and survival rates for mesothelioma are what would be considered dismal, patients have been known to beat the odds, sometimes by years. Early diagnosis is key, as is exploring every viable alternative. Becoming educated through available resources is critical.