When you’re first diagnosed with mesothelioma, you will most likely be hearing a whole new set of terms and learning new vocabulary along the way. These terms can sound scary, especially if you’re not familiar with cancer and its treatment. This article is intended to give patients a brief overview of the most common terms related to the condition of mesothelioma itself, and the treatments and diagnostics that go along with it.
This is the removal of a small piece of a tumor; samples removed during a biopsy are sent to a lab for analysis, to determine the presence of cancer in the body. A biopsy is considered a surgical procedure, but it is minor enough to be performed in a doctor’s office. A more major biopsy, known as an excisional biopsy, may need to be performed in a hospital, as it aims to remove the entire suspected tumor.
The mesothelium is a sensitive layer of tissues surrounding the body’s most vital organs, including the lungs, heart, and abdominal organs. The mesothelium is filled with a fluid that allows the tissues to expand and contract with the organs’ movement.
Also called a CAT scan, a CT scan is a detailed, three-dimensional image that allows doctors to get a more accurate view of internal organs. A small amount of radiation is used to produce images, enabling doctors to detect areas in the body where cancer may have developed. Like an X-ray, a CT scan is painless, and is done using a large machine often found in a hospital or specialty care center.
PET scans are being more widely used as a way to detect the progress of cancer treatment progress because it poses little threat to a patient’s already fragile state of health. During a PET scan, a short-lived radioactive substance is injected into the body so the machine can better trace and detect cancerous cells and tumors.
Chemotherapy is a commonly used treatment for many types of cancer. It involves injecting powerful drugs and chemicals into the body to stop the growth of, or eliminate, cancerous cells. These drugs are often delivered in liquid form through an IV, but certain kinds can be taken orally. “Chemo” is often given in cycles of doses, with the number of doses dependent on the stage and type of cancer. Chemotherapy is often recommended to mesothelioma patients and can be effective in reducing even late-stage tumors.
Radiation is the process of delivering high doses of focused radiation (such as gamma rays, X-rays, or electron beams) to a certain area of the body where there is a cancerous tumor. Unlike chemotherapy, which attacks the entire body, radiation therapy inflicts damage where the radiation is directed in the body. When combined with chemotherapy, these treatments are effective in many patients.
Metastasis is the process of cancer spreading from its initial starting point in the body. The most common sites of metastatic tumors are the lungs, bones, liver, and brain. You may also hear these referred to as “mets.” Follow up scans search for these to track the progression (or regression) of cancer.
When a patient is initially diagnosed with mesothelioma, doctors and oncologists will go through a process called “staging” to determine the progression of the cancer and better able determine correct treatment methods, and give patients an accurate prognosis or life expectancy. Cancer has four stages, Stage I being the least serious and Stage IV being the most serious. Staging determines the extent of cancer in the body and how far it has spread. These also help to determine treatment strategies.
Because mesothelioma is often diagnosed in the later stages of cancer, standard treatment options may not be effective, and the patient may choose to forgo treatment and let the cancer run its course. During this time, patients may undergo palliative treatments, which are alternative methods to make them more comfortable and alleviate pain. Such treatments may include yoga or meditation, acupuncture, herbal or holistic therapy, or massage.