By Guest Blogger Douglas Karr, Petty Officer Second Class (Retired), United States Navy Veteran
Mesothelioma is not one of the more common cancers being contracted nowadays, but it is no longer considered rare. Due to the increase of diagnosed cases in recent years, awareness is extremely important and the number one goal of this post.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. It occurs in the mesothelium, a thin membrane encompassing the body’s internal organs and cavities. Mesothelioma is classified into three different types: pleural, peritoneal and pericardial.
- Malignant pleural mesothelioma normally originates in the chest cavity and will sometimes involve the lungs.
- Peritoneal mesothelioma will start in the abdomen then spread to areas such as the bowel, spleen or liver.
- Pericardial mesothelioma, the rarest of the three, involves the heart.
If you know you have been exposed to asbestos during your life, whether it was at work or at home, you should regularly go to the doctor for an examination. The scariest part about this deadly cancer is its latency period. A person may have been exposed to asbestos up to 40 years prior to noticing any symptoms of the disease. In some cases the cancer can progress into the later stages before being diagnosed, which does not bode well for the victim.
Some symptoms one should be on the look out for are anemia, blood clotting disorder, bowel obstruction, chest pain, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), fluid effusion (swelling or fluid retention), hemoptysis (coughing up blood), nausea and weight loss.
The aggressive nature of mesothelioma tends to lead to an unfavorable prognosis. The stage of the cancer, as well as the health of the individual, plays a significant role in life expectancy. Survival rates for cancer are normally quoted in what is called the relative five-year survival rate. This rate for mesothelioma patients is 10 percent. The current one-year survival rate is 40 percent. Although these numbers seem ugly, these survival rates are much higher than they were decades ago. This is due to increased awareness and funding, which has lead to some phenomenal scientific breakthroughs.
Mesothelioma Can Cause Disability
There are many ways a person who suffers from mesothelioma may become disabled. Many of the treatments used (e.g. radiation, chemotherapy or surgery) have debilitating effects. Radiation can cause fatigue, lung damage and vomiting. Chemotherapy can cause nausea and vomiting. Radiation combined with chemotherapy can make the side effects worse. The symptoms from these two treatments are sometimes only temporary but can have long lasting effects for the remainder of a person’s life.
Surgery is performed to either relieve pain and discomfort caused by a tumor or to remove the mesothelioma area entirely. However, mesothelioma is often hard to treat, because it tends to spread along nearby surfaces, nerves and blood vessels. In order to undergo curative surgery, a patient must be in otherwise good health and the tumor must be able to be completely removed. Surgery is very risky and may not be entirely successful. It could even lead to a continued spread of the mesothelioma.
Quality of life after curative surgery will not be equal to a person who had never had mesothelioma, because the surgery involves removal of the pleura, diaphragm, pericardium, as well as the whole lung on the side of the tumor. A patient may spend the rest of their life on pain medication, anti-nausea medication and could even have serious nerve damage after these treatments. If the mesothelioma victim undergoes surgery to remove a lung, they will live the remainder of their life on one lung, which can limit the person in various ways.
For more information about malignant mesothelioma, visit the American Cancer Society.
Honorably discharged from the United States Navy almost 17 years ago, Douglas has collaborated with The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance to write for their Veterans Blog, and is passionate about sharing his experiences with other Veterans and members of the military community. In addition, Douglas maintains a social networking website exclusively for Navy Veterans, NavyVets.com, and runs his online marketing agency, DK New Media. Douglas resides in Indianapolis, Ind., with his two children, Bill and Katie.
**The information in this post is the view of the guest blogger and is not intended to act as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team.