Mesothelioma

What Is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive and unusual form of cancer most commonly caused by inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers.

When a person inhales asbestos, fibers can become lodged in the lining of the lungs or abdomen. Over time, asbestos fibers cause nearby cells to mutate, transforming them into cancerous epithelioid, sarcomatoid, or biphasic tumors.

Mesothelioma cells take decades to mutate and are difficult to detect in early stages, making it one of the deadliest forms of cancers.

Mesothelioma can develop in the lungs, abdomen, or heart and can spread throughout the body.

What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

There are several symptoms of mesothelioma, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Rib pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blood in fecal matter
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain in the upper back
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Blood in coughed-up mucus (sputum)

Mesothelioma symptoms are often mistaken for other conditions and can be easy to overlook. If you have any of the above symptoms in addition to mesothelioma risk factors (below), seek medical advice.

What Are the Risk Factors for Mesothelioma?

The single most significant risk factor for mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos.

If you or a family member worked in an environment that frequently contained asbestos, you are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma later in life. Mesothelioma typically takes 20-50 years to develop after the initial exposure to asbestos.

Additional recognized risk factors include:

  • Gender (male)
  • Age (60+ years)
  • Poor nutrition and health

Learn More About Risk Factors

Can My GP or Family Doctor Diagnose Mesothelioma?

Not on their own.

Mesothelioma is a relatively rare disease, and many GPs have never diagnosed mesothelioma. Mesothelioma doesn’t look or behave like other forms of cancer, which makes it easy to overlook or misdiagnose.

If you suspect you have mesothelioma, it’s critical that you connect with a cancer specialist who has experience with mesothelioma. Many of these specialists have dedicated their lives to diagnosing, treating, and eventually curing mesothelioma, and will be happy to help.

Do I Need a Second Opinion?

Yes. Mesothelioma is a complex disease, and you should always get a second opinion if you are diagnosed with it.

Ensure your biopsy samples are sent to a second facility and have your diagnosis confirmed by at least 2 doctors with mesothelioma experience.

Note that some insurance policies also require a second opinion before they will cover treatment. Hospitals with mesothelioma centers can often provide second opinions in-house, while hospitals without several mesothelioma experts should outsource a second opinion.

Treatment

Is There a Cure for Mesothelioma?

There is no single tried and true cure for mesothelioma and the typical life expectancy for mesothelioma victims is under 5 years.

However, there are people whose mesothelioma is in remission and have lived for more than 10 years after their diagnosis.

Mesothelioma treatment is significantly more successful than it has been in the past. Mesothelioma specialists regularly invent and test new treatment options, working towards a future cure for the disease.

What Treatment Options Are Available?

There are many treatment options for mesothelioma, including:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Intravenous or oral chemotherapy
  • Heated chemotherapy
  • Phototherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted or biologic therapy

What Is the Trimodal Approach to Treatment?

The trimodal approach is currently considered the most effective mesothelioma treatment for people with pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma.

The extent of the cancer and overall health of the person allows the doctor to determine candidacy for these various treatments (i.e., if specific treatments would be helpful and reasonably safe to administer).

The trimodal approach combines 3 types of treatment:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation

First, any visible cancer cells are removed from the body using surgery.

Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma may then receive heated chemotherapy — a post-surgical procedure in which the abdomen is filled with a chemotherapy solution for several hours to bathe the organs, attempting to kill any remaining microscopic cancer cells.

Afterward, patients receive traditional chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

What Is the Survival Rate After Treatment?

Mesothelioma survival rates vary depending on the mesothelioma type, stage, and treatment strategy. It’s best to discuss survival rates for your specific circumstances with an experienced mesothelioma specialist.

Should I Participate in a Clinical Trial?

Clinical trials give patients the opportunity to test new treatments before they are FDA approved and are vital for cancer research. For many patients, it’s their last hope. However, every clinical trial has its objectives, and many aren’t cure-oriented.

Many mesothelioma trials focus on scientific objectives that will help researchers better understand the disease, someday leading to a cure, but not necessarily for the patients who are participating.

Some patients participating in trials find it very rewarding that their participation could help others in the future.

Therefore, participating in a clinical trial is a highly personal decision. If you are considering clinical trials, talk to your doctor about your eligibility and the pros and the cons, to see if it’s the right decision for your circumstance.

Asbestos

How Does Asbestos Get Into the Body?

Microscopic asbestos fibers get into the body when they’re inhaled or ingested.

Disturbed asbestos fibers become airborne and can be consumed through a person’s natural breathing process. Once inhaled, hard asbestos fibers can then become lodged in the body’s soft lining.

What Are the Different Types of Asbestos?

There are two types of asbestos: serpentine and amphibole.

Although both forms of asbestos can result in mesothelioma, amphibole is considered the more deadly type due to the spear-like shape of its fibers. These tiny slivers become embedded in the body much easier than serpentine fibers, which are curly.

If Asbestos is so Dangerous, Why Was it Commonly Used?

Before the 1970s, the dangers of asbestos were largely unknown by the public.

Instead, asbestos was seen as an incredible material because it was lightweight, fireproof, waterproof, and inexpensive. All of these qualities made it highly desirable in a wide range of industries.

Will the Asbestos in My House Give Me Mesothelioma?

No, not unless it is disturbed. Resting asbestos does not pose a health risk to nearby individuals. People are only at risk of asbestos exposure when asbestos is disturbed and becomes airborne.

Isn’t Asbestos Banned in the United States?

No. Many countries have banned asbestos, including Australia, Denmark, and Ireland, but the United States is not one of them.

Asbestos is regulated, but it isn’t outright banned, and asbestos mining and manufacturing still occurs in the United States. Many organizations are actively working towards a full ban on asbestos production.

At-Risk Occupations

What Occupations Have the Highest Mesothelioma Risk?

Many trades, construction and manufacturing jobs put workers at risk of developing mesothelioma later in life. Scientists have linked the amount of asbestos exposure a person has received to their chances of developing mesothelioma.

The higher the asbestos exposure, the higher the likelihood of being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

While not exhaustive, the following are occupational industries that frequently exposed workers to asbestos:

  • Aircraft mechanics
  • Navy and shipyard
  • Railroads
  • Chemical and power plants
  • Mining
  • Factories
  • Trades and construction
  • Firefighting
  • Engineering
  • View More Occupations

How Do I Know if I Was Exposed to Asbestos at Work?

If you worked in one of the at-risk occupations before the 1980s, there’s a high chance you were exposed to asbestos in your day-to-day work. However, some occupations put workers at a much higher risk than others.

Explore at-risk occupations to find out whether your job likely exposed you to asbestos.

Legal

What Legal Options Do Mesothelioma Victims Have?

Numerous legal options may be available for mesothelioma victims. People with a mesothelioma diagnosis can file lawsuits for damages due to negligence, while family members can file for wrongful death.

In some cases, mesothelioma victims will pursue a trial verdict or access asbestos bankruptcy trust funds without going to court at all. To find out what legal options are currently available to you, contact an experienced mesothelioma lawyer.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for a Mesothelioma Lawsuit?

The statute of limitations for mesothelioma lawsuits vary by state and the type of claim.

For example, California, Kentucky, and Tennessee require a claim to occur within 1 year of diagnosis or death. By contrast, Maine allows for lawsuits up to 6 years after diagnosis and 2 years of death.

It’s essential that all mesothelioma victims learn the statute of limitations for their state as close to their diagnosis as possible to ensure all compensation options remain available.

Who Should I Contact to Start a Lawsuit?

Mesothelioma law is complicated and can be overwhelming, even for lawyers who aren’t familiar with the protocols and procedures. Therefore, it’s crucial that you work with an experienced mesothelioma lawyer with a track record of success.

To learn more about seeking legal justice for mesothelioma, contact our Justice Support Team today.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Reviewed by:Dr. Assuntina Sacco

Board-Certified Oncologist

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Assuntina Sacco, MD is an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Moores Cancer Center, where she also serves as the Medical Director of Infusion Services. She is a board-certified medical oncologist trained to treat all solid tumor types, with the use of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and clinical trials.

Dr. Assuntina Sacco is an independently paid medical reviewer.

Stephanie KiddWritten by:

Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie Kidd grew up in a family of civil servants, blue-collar workers, and medical caregivers. Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from Stetson University, she began her career specializing in worker safety regulations and communications. Now, a proud member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Cancer Network, Stephanie serves as a voice for mesothelioma victims and their families.

View 6 Sources
  1. American Cancer Society, “Malignant Mesothelioma,” Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/ Accessed on April 14, 2018.
  2. National Cancer Institute, “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risks.” Retrieves from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/asbestos/asbestos-fact-sheet. Accessed on April 14, 2018.
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information, “ASBESTOS (CHRYSOTILE, AMOSITE, CROCIDOLITE, TREMOLITE, ACTINOLITE AND ANTHOPHYLLITE)” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK304374/. Accessed on April 14, 2018.
  4. US National Library of Medicine, “Occupational exposure to asbestos: population at risk and project mortality -- 1980-2030” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7171087. Accessed on April 14, 2018.
  5. OSHA Fact Sheet “Asbestos” Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3507.pdf. Accessed on April 14, 2018.
  6. Canadian Cancer Society, “Treatments for Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/mesothelioma/mesothelioma-treatment/?region=on. Accessed on April 14, 2018.
Back to Top