Of the many forms of cancer, one of the rarest is Mesothelioma. Brought about by exposure to asbestos, this cancer of the chest cavity and lung linings can sneak up on you, years after your initial exposure. If you’ve ever been exposed to this substance – even for the briefest amount of time – contact your primary care physician immediately for a comprehensive examination.
Anyone who’s ever worked in an area that’s been contaminated by asbestos is at high risk for Mesothelioma. This disease doesn’t require ongoing exposure, but rather a single instance can serve as the catalyst for its development. Prolonged or ongoing contact with this substance, however, places the person in a much higher risk category for contracting the disease. In fact, family members are at risk, as well, since particles of asbestos can cling to hair, skin, clothing and shoes. Once carried into the home, these particles can be breathed in by others, who are then also at risk.
Although great care has been taken by environmental agencies to remove traces of asbestos from public and private areas, those who were exposed as far back as 50 years ago may still develop Mesothelioma, since the disease can lie dormant for up to half a century. Those who are most at risk – and who most commonly suffer from the disease – include mechanics, firemen, demolition workers, shipbuilders, construction workers and drywall removers.
Since many people are unaware of the fact that they’ve been exposed to asbestos, it’s important to seek medical attention if any of the symptoms of Mesothelioma become apparent. If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, hoarseness, weight loss, difficulty swallowing, a persistent cough, chest or abdominal pain or blood in the phlegm from the lungs when coughing, contact your primary care physician immediately. Don’t automatically assume that it’s from the flu or some other, more common, ailment.
The series of tests which are often done are comprised of x-rays, MRIs, CT scans – each of which will help to outline any possible presence of Mesothelioma;
cytology – a test which examines the pleural fluids to determine the existence of malignant cells;
needle biopsy – a procedure in which, after the patient is anesthetized, a needle is inserted into the chest cavity in order to extract a tissue sample; and
open biopsy – the most accurate test for detecting Mesothelioma since a larger tissue sample is taken. In the case of each of the biopsy procedures, radiation is often used in order to discourage tumor seeding.
While there are treatments that are available in order to keep the patient comfortable, there’s currently no cure for Mesothelioma, and ¾ of those who develop the disease will lose their life within one year, while the remainder may last for up to an additional six months. Among the treatments that are used in order to reduce the effects of the disease are oxygen, postural drainage and pain killers.
In spite of this, new treatments approaches are being tested, which have offered an improvement in the care of Mesothelioma patients. Among these are Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) – light at a particular frequency, combined with photosensitive drugs, is used to kill cancer cells in the tissue;
Immunotherapy – a procedure which helps to fortify the body’s natural immune system;
Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) – uses doses of radiation that are delivered to complex tumors;
Gene Therapy – used to correct the problem at the DNA level; and
Complementary Alternative Medicine – treatments that are not within the mainstream of the medical community, such as homeopathy, herbs, therapeutic massage and acupuncture.
One of the things that makes Mesothelioma so difficult to treat is its aggressive nature. This type of cancer can travel quickly, once it’s no longer dormant, making it crucial to notify your physician if you suspect any form of exposure to asbestos. Anyone – regardless of age, gender or race – can develop this vicious disease. Preventive maintenance is the only hope of avoiding the illness. Never take chances when it comes to possible exposure. If you’re unsure of whether or not you’re going into a safe area, protect yourself rather than taking a gamble on your health.
Your physician may also be able to address your questions and concerns, or have literature for you to acquaint yourself with the disease. If you, or anyone that you know, has come into contact with asbestos, it’s crucial that medical attention is sought as soon as possible. As with any other illness, the sooner it’s diagnosed, the greater the chances are for extending the life of the individual.