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:
- 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
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.