Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that most often starts in the covering of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) but can also start in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma). Here is information on symptoms and causes (including asbestos), tests and scans to diagnose mesothelioma, treatment including surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and current research. Information on living with mesothelioma includes coping with your diagnosis, and managing when you have advanced disease.

What it Mesothelioma?

What Mesothelioma is

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that can develop in the tissues covering the lungs or the abdomen. It is a cancer of mesothelial cells. These cells cover the outer surface of most of our internal body organs, forming a lining that is called the mesothelium.

Mesothelioma in the chest

 About three quarters of mesotheliomas occur in the chest (75%). They start in the two sheets of tissue known as pleural membranes (or pleura) that cover the lungs. The gap between the pleura is called the pleural space. The pleura are fibrous sheets that help to protect the lungs. They also produce a lubricating fluid that helps the pleural membranes to slide over each other easily when the lungs expand and deflate as we breathe. Mesothelioma of the pleura is called pleural mesothelioma.

Diagram of the lung showing the pleura

The sheet of tissue covering the heart (the pericardium) is very close to the pleura. So in some people pleural mesothelioma may also spread into the pericardium. The diagram below shows the pleural membranes thickening due to mesothelioma.

Diagram of the lung showing pleural mesothelioma

Mesothelioma in the abdomen

The sheet of tissue covering the organs of the abdomen (tummy) is called the peritoneum. It helps to protect the contents of the abdomen and keep them in place. It also produces a lubricating fluid. The fluid helps the abdominal organs to move smoothly against each other as we move around.

Mesothelioma of the tissues lining the abdominal cavity is known as peritoneal mesothelioma. About a quarter of mesotheliomas occur in the abdomen (25%). So it is much less common than pleural mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma does not usually spread to other parts of the body.

What Are the Symptoms?

Benign mesothelioma

 A type of non cancerous (benign) mesothelioma can develop in the lining of the lungs, or in the lining of the reproductive organs. It can occur in either men or women. These non cancerous tumours are very rare and we don’t cover them in this section.

 

ymptoms in the early stages of mesothelioma

In its early stages, mesothelioma does not have many symptoms, whether it is in the chest (pleura) or the abdomen (peritoneum). When symptoms do develop, they are often caused by the cancer growing and pressing on a nerve or other body organ. The symptoms mentioned below can be caused by illnesses other than mesothelioma. But if you have these symptoms, see your doctor. This is particularly important if you have been exposed to asbestos in the past.

The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma

The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma are

  • Pain in the lower back or the side of the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating and high temperatures
  • A persistent cough
  • Losing more than 10% of your weight when not dieting
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A hoarse or husky voice

Some people have changes in the shape of their fingers and nails called finger clubbing, but this is not common.

The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma

The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are

  • Pain in the abdomen (tummy)
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Poor appetite
  • Losing more than 10% of your weight when not dieting
  • Diarrhoea or constipation

More information

The earlier a cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful. So it is important that you go to your GP as soon as possible if you notice worrying symptoms.

What Causes Mesothelioma?

How common mesothelioma is

Mesothelioma is quite a rare cancer, but it is becoming more common. More than 2,500 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the UK each year. There are about 5 times as many cases in men as in women. This is probably because many cases have been caused by exposure to asbestos at work. Mesothelioma in the chest (pleural mesothelioma) is much more common than mesothelioma in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma).

Asbestos

We know that asbestos causes most cases of pleural mesothelioma. The risk is greater if you were exposed to large amounts of it from an early age for a very long period of time. Many people withperitoneal mesothelioma have also been exposed to asbestos.

We have known of a link between asbestos and lung disease since the beginning of the 18th century. But the link with mesothelioma has only been known since the 1960’s. Unfortunately, the number of cases of mesothelioma in the UK each year is expected to rise sharply for the next few years because of the heavy use of asbestos in industry from the end of the second world war up until the mid 1970s.

It is estimated that in the UK more than 9 out of 10 men with mesothelioma and more than 8 out of 10 women have been in contact with asbestos. But some people say they have no history of any exposure to asbestos.

Remember that many people who develop mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure may be able to claim compensation. It is important to talk to a solicitor about this as early as possible. Your specialist doctor or nurse may be able to give you some information. Or some of the mesothelioma organisations can help and advise you.

What asbestos is

Asbestos is an insulating material that is heat and fire resistant. In the past, asbestos was used widely in the

  • Building industry
  • Ship building industry
  • Manufacture of household appliances
  • Motor industry
  • Power stations
  • Telephone exchanges

So most cases of mesothelioma occur in men who have worked in manufacturing using asbestos or who have used asbestos products, particularly in construction or engineering. A UK study showed that risks are particularly high for metal plate workers (mainly in shipbuilding) and carpenters, and the risk is higher in people exposed to asbestos before the age of 30. This study estimated that 1 out of 17 British men born in the 1940s and employed in carpentry for more than 10 years before the age of 30 would go on to develop mesothelioma. People who worked as plumbers or mechanics also have an increased risk.

Asbestos was widely used in the years after the war (after 1945). Mesothelioma may not develop until 15 to 60 years after you have been exposed to asbestos, which is why we have seen an increase in cases in recent years. The number of people dying from mesothelioma each year is expected to peak around 2016 and then start to go down.

There are three main types of asbestos – blue, brown and white. Blue and brown asbestos are strongly linked with mesothelioma. They have been banned since the late 1980’s and cannot be imported into the UK. White asbestos is now also thought to be harmful. The use of all asbestos was banned in 1999 in the UK.

How asbestos causes mesothelioma

Asbestos is made up of tiny fibres. You can breathe these fibres in when you come into contact with asbestos. The fibres work their way into the pleura, lining the lung. They irritate the pleura and may cause gene changes (mutations) that lead to the growth of cancer. Some of the fibres that have been breathed in can be coughed up and swallowed. This is probably the cause of peritoneal mesothelioma.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, your family may also have been exposed. Asbestos fibres can be carried home on your clothes. Research studies have confirmed that the families of people exposed to asbestos also have a higher risk of developing mesothelioma.

 

The SV40 virus

Research has looked into a virus called SV40 (the SV stands for simian virus). In people who have been exposed to asbestos, some studies have shown that contact with the SV40 virus makes it more likely that they will develop mesothelioma. So SV40 is thought of as a possible co factor for mesothelioma development. But this is not completely clear.

Some people have been found to be exposed to polio vaccines contaminated with SV40 virus between 1955 and 1963 in some countries, including Britain.

Radiation

Pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma has been shown to develop after exposure to radiation from a chemical called thorium dioxide (Thorotrast). This chemical was used until the 1950’s in some X-ray tests.

Some studies show an increased risk of mesothelioma in people treated with radiotherapy for a previous cancer. But other studies show no increased risk. If radiotherapy does increase the risk of mesothelioma, this is likely to occur only in a very small number of people.

Other chemicals

A mineral found in Turkey called erionite (a type of Zeolite fibre) has been shown to cause mesothelioma.

Working as a painter has been linked with an increased risk of mesothelioma possibly due to chemicals in the paint.

Mesothelioma Survival Rate

“How long can I live with this disease?” is a common query for those who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Indeed, many patients will turn to their doctor with this question as will their concerned friends and family members. As with most diseases, however, there is no one answer as to the life expectancy of a mesothelioma patient. In general, the mesothelioma survival rate is based on a number of different factors. Every case is a little bit different and, although the survival rate for mesothelioma victims has traditionally been grim, more and more patients are living longer with the disease as scientists discover new and more effective ways to detect the disease and to treat it.

Survival rates for mesothelioma patients are dependent upon a variety of factors that may include any or all of the following:

Mesothelioma Latency Period

Mesothelioma is an unusual form of cancer in that it has a very long latency period. Essentially, this means that the disease often “hides” in the body for many years, sometimes for up to four or five decades. Hence, 40-50 years may have passed since initial exposure to asbestos first occurred. This extended latency period also means that the disease is not detected until symptoms arise. Often, by that time, the cancer has spread from the primary area to other parts of the body.

Stage of Disease at the Time of Diagnosis

Individuals whose mesothelioma is discovered in Stage 1 or 2 have a greater chance of surviving the disease for an extended period of time due to the fact that more treatment options will be available to them. Individuals diagnosed with Stage 3 or 4 mesothelioma will have fewer treatment options, and thus, a less favorable prognosis. The worst mesothelioma prognosis is seen in patients with advanced cancer that present or are symptomatic with distant metastases of the primary tumor, i.e., the cancer has spread from the primary area to other parts of the body.

Operability of the Tumor

Due to the aforementioned latency period, surgery to remove the primary mesothelioma tumor is often not an option. However, if the disease is discovered in an early stage, a surgical procedure to remove the tumor may be a possibility, especially when the patient is otherwise healthy.

Age of the Patient

The younger the patient, the better the chance for survival. Studies have shown that age does indeed play a factor in survival rate and young patients certainly fair better.

Co-morbidity with Other Illnesses

Patients, especially older ones, who have many other medical issues are less likely to survive for any length of time with mesothelioma. This is especially true with older patients, who account for large numbers of mesothelioma victims. Heart disease, kidney problems, diabetes, hypertension, and a host of other illnesses or disorders can severely impact treatment options and, hence, shorten a patient’s life span.

Mesothelioma Treatment Plan

The length of time a mesothelioma victim survives may depend on the treatment(s) he receives. Most doctors will be as aggressive as possible, understanding that this is a tough cancer to treat.

Area and Type of the Disease

Mesothelioma comes in various forms. About 75 percent of cases appear in the pleura, 15 to 20 percent in the peritoneum, and just 5 percent in the pericardium. Pleural mesothelioma is easier to treat and patients will generally have a longer mesothelioma survival rate than those whose disease is centered elsewhere. In addition, those with epithelial mesothelioma (most cases are of this type) have a better prognosis than those with other types of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Survival Rate Statistics

Mesothelioma is a form a cancer with a notably poor prognosis; mesothelioma life expectancy following diagnosis ranges between eight and fourteen months. The primary reason is the lengthy mesothelioma latency period as well as the fact that early mesothelioma symptoms are indicative of numerous other respiratory diseases as well, often delaying a correct diagnosis. While Stage 1 or stage 2 mesothelioma is often potentially curable, Stage 3 and stage 4 mesothelioma is not; such patients are often relegated to palliative treatments to relieve symptoms and restore quality of life.

Mesothelioma prognosis is officially determined by a standard measure known as the relative five-year survival rate. This number indicates how many patients are still alive five years after being diagnosed with the disease. Currently, the relative five-year survival rate for mesothelioma is about 10 percent, a number that is significantly higher than it was a few decades ago. The one-year survival rate has also improved throughout the last 20 years or so and now sits at approximately 40 percent. Nevertheless, the overall mesothelioma survival rate remains poor.

Mesothelioma survival rate varies from patient to patient, with some patients being able to far exceed initial prognosis at diagnosis

However, there are exceptions to the rule and there are some individuals who have defied the normal mesothelioma survival rate. One man, Australian Paul Kraus, has been living with the disease since 1997, designing his own treatment program and shunning traditional medicine. Other mesothelioma victims who have been treated with standard therapies like chemo and radiation have also survived longer than the usual 10-11 months after diagnosis. For example, there are recorded cases of patients with a typical mesothelioma prognosis that beat the odds and survived with the disease for ten years and longer. In two cases (both elderly women), mesothelioma remission occurred for no apparent reason.

It has been difficult for doctors to determine why one patient can survive with mesothelioma for years and others succumb to the disease within a year of diagnosis. Some indicators point to the role of the immune system in fighting the disease; many survivors participated in some sort of treatment that served to enhance their body’s immune system.

Legal Advice Slater & Gordon Legal Advisors

If you have just been diagnosed with mesothelioma, we think that it is important that you consult with one of their specialist mesothelioma lawyers as soon as possible. This is so that they can discuss the time when you were in contact with asbestos and to take a proper statement from you. If you wish to make an industrial disease compensation claim Their mesothelioma solicitors can handle all aspects of your claim and with our expertise, guide you through not just the compensation process but other processes such as claiming benefits.

Mesothelioma compensation is claimed from the insurers of the company who are at fault for allowing you to come into such contact with asbestos. Often these companies ceased to exist a long time ago but compensation would come from the insurers and Slater & Gordon have their own database to help trace them as well as contacts who help to find them. By talking to a Mesothelioma solicitor as soon as possible you will increase your chance of securing compensation. This is because compensation is only paid where there is blame for your industrial disease and we can help fight to prove this.

What you can claim for

Compensation awarded to those suffering from mesothelioma represents different elements. Some of these are:

  • The illness itself
  • Loss of earnings
  • Any items you need to purchase as a result of the disease, from aids around the home to different foods to those usually purchased, to mobility aids.
  • An amount to reflect the care provided by those you know, separate from any fees you may have paid to professionals for this
  • Any losses to other family members
  • Travelling expenses to hospital or medical appointments

Many other items can be claimed for but these are just some examples.

Call us on freephone0808 175 7929

Call one of their Mesothelioma Lawyers for a free consultation if you or a family member has received a diagnosis of mesothelioma, Freephone  0808 175 7929.

 

View Sources

Source

National Cancer Institute – Malignant Mesothelioma
(http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/malignantmesothelioma)

American Cancer Society: Learn About Cancer: Malignant Mesothelioma
(http://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignantmesothelioma/index)

Hassan, R. “Mesothelin Targeted Cancer Immunotherapy.” European Journal of Cancer, August 2007.

 

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