Mesothelioma: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention


Mesothelioma is a cancer that attacks the mesothelium. It is a rare and aggressive cancer. As the name implies, mesothelioma is a cancer that forms in the mesothelial layer.

The mesothelial layer is the layer that lines the heart, lungs and stomach. Therefore, mesothelioma is a cancer that develops in the walls of the lungs, stomach, or heart.

Types of mesothelioma cancer

  1. Pleural mesothelioma is a cancer that attacks the lining of the mesothelium (pleura). This type is the most common type.
  2. Peritoneal mesothelioma is mesothelioma in the lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum).
  3. Pericardial mesothelioma is mesothelioma that attacks the protective layer of the heart organ (pericardium).
  4. Testicular mesothelioma is a mesothelioma that attacks the protective layer of testicles.

Causes of Mesothelioma

The cause of mesothelioma is not certain. However, mesothelioma is always associated with asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a mineral that is widely used as a building construction material, such as roofs, because of its heat resistance and fire resistance. The use of asbestos has been officially banned since 1999.

When asbestos is destroyed, either during the process of mining or renovating a building, asbestos will produce fiber or fine dust. Asbestos fine fiber is very easy to breathe, then enters and settles in body organs, especially the lungs.

Swallowed asbestos fibers can also move through the lymphatic system, settle, and infect cells in the lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum).

Asbestos exposure can also affect the function of the reproductive organs and the heart. However, the spread process is not yet known because it is very rare. In general, there are several factors that increase the risk of mesothelioma, such as:

  1. Work environments that are vulnerable to asbestos exposure, such as mineral mines, construction sites, the automotive industry, power plants, the textile industry and steel mills.
  2. Residing in old buildings or environments where the land contains asbestos.
  3. Having family members who work in environments that are vulnerable to asbestos exposure. Asbestos can be attached to the skin and clothing, so that asbestos can be carried into other homes or environments.
  4. Having a history of mesothelioma or genetic disorders that increase the risk of cancer.

Apart from asbestos, there are several other factors that can increase the risk of mesothelioma, although it is rare. Such as exposure to erionite minerals, radiation exposure to thorium dioxide chemicals used in X-ray photo examinations until the 1950s, and infected by simian viruses (SV40).

Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Symptoms of mesothelioma develop gradually and usually take 20-30 years until symptoms appear. Patients may not feel any symptoms when mesothelioma is at an early stage. But over time, cancer cells will develop and suppress nerves or other organs, causing symptoms.

Symptoms of mesothelioma differ depending on the location of the presence of cancer cells. In pleural mesothelioma, symptoms that may appear are as follows:

  • Fever is accompanied by sweat, especially at night.
  • Excessive fatigue.
  • Cough accompanied by unbearable pain.
  • Shortness of breath due to accumulation of fluid in the lungs, precisely in the pleural cavity, which is a room between the two layers of pleura that lines the lungs.
  • Weight loss without obvious reasons.
  • Chest pain.
  • Swelling and changes in shape at the fingertips (clubbing).
  • Lumps appear on the tissue beneath the surface of the skin in the chest area.
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Meanwhile, peritoneal mesothelioma has the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • The weight dropped dramatically.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Constipation.
  • Pain in the abdomen.
  • Swelling in the abdominal area.
  • A lump in the abdomen appears.
  • Disorders of bowel movements and urination.

Pericardial and testicular Mesothelioma is a type of mesothelioma that has the potential to occur. Pericardial Mesothelioma usually causes symptoms such as chest pain and respiratory problems. Whereas testicular mesothelioma has symptoms such as swelling or the appearance of lumps in the testicular area.

Symptoms of mesothelioma are not specific and can be caused by other conditions. Therefore, immediately see a doctor if you feel the symptoms above, especially if you have a history of exposure to asbestos.

Mesothelioma Diagnosis

The doctor will suspect a patient has mesothelioma, if there are symptoms, which are strengthened by a physical examination. But to make sure, an imaging test is needed. Among others are:

  • X-rays, to detect abnormalities, such as thickening in the lung layer, fluid in the pleural cavity, or changes in lung shape.
  • CT (Computed Tomographyscan, to examine the chest and abdomen, and detect signs of cancer, determine the location of the cancer, and check whether the cancer has spread to other organs.
  • PET (Positron Emission Tomography). Examination by using compounds containing radioactive atoms that are injected into the body to get a detailed picture of the tissue suspected of having cancer cells.
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), to get a more detailed picture of the tissue to determine the location of the tumor.

In addition, the doctor can also suggest a follow-up examination in the form of:

  • Examination of fluid samples. If the patient experiences fluid buildup in the body related to mesothelioma, the doctor will take a liquid sample using a needle inserted through the skin into the area where the liquid is located. Furthermore, the fluid will be analyzed in the laboratory to detect the presence of cancer cells. There are several types of fluid and tissue sample tests, namely:
    • Thoracentesis, taking fluid samples in the area of the pleural cavity.
    • Paracentesis, taking fluid in the abdominal cavity.
    • Pericardiocentesis, taking fluid in the layer (membrane) around the heart.
  • Biopsy is the procedure for removing tissue samples from certain body parts to be analyzed in the laboratory. There are several types of biopsy examinations, namely:
    • Needle biopsy. This type of biopsy uses a long needle inserted through the skin into the chest or abdominal cavity to take tissue samples.
    • Thoracoscopy, laparoscopy, and mediastinoscopy. This type of biopsy uses an elastic hose with a camera and a special surgical device that is inserted through one or more small incisions to take tissue samples.
    • Biopsy through surgery. For some conditions, the doctor will perform an invasive procedure to take larger tissue samples to determine the diagnosis. Sometimes, the doctor will also do the procedure to remove the entire tumor if possible.
    • Bronchoscopic biopsy. Procedure for removing tissue samples using a long, thin elastic tube inserted through the throat to examine the respiratory tract.
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Mesothelioma Treatment

Mesothelioma is one type of cancer that is rare and has not been cured until now. Treatment is done to control or reduce the symptoms experienced and extend the patient’s life chances. Treatment steps are generally determined based on several factors, namely:

  • Age and overall health condition of the patient.
  • Type and location of mesothelioma.
  • Stadium or spread of cancer cells in the body.
  • Size of mesothelioma.

Based on the considerations above, there are several treatment steps that might be recommended by doctors, namely:

  • Chemotherapy, therapeutic treatment with anti-cancer drugs to destroy or inhibit the growth of cancer cells that cannot be removed through surgery. Chemotherapy can be done before or after surgery to shrink the tumor, facilitate the process of removing the tumor, and reduce the risk of cancer reappearing.
  • Radiation therapy (radiotherapy), therapeutic treatment with X-rays and proton rays that are focused on certain areas of the body. Radiotherapy is usually done after the patient has undergone surgery procedure, to remove the remaining cancer cells. This treatment therapy is also done to reduce the symptoms of advanced cancer when surgery is not possible.
  • Surgery is done when mesothelioma is still in its early stages.
  • Multimodal therapy. This therapy is a combination of three or more treatment steps, such as surgery, postoperative chemotherapy and radiation therapy to increase the success rate of treatment.
  • Supporting treatment. This treatment can help sufferers in controlling the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma, such as:
    • Respiratory exercise, to control breathing when the patient experiences symptoms of difficulty breathing.
    • Body relaxation exercises, to reduce breathing muscle tension, so that patients can breathe more easily.

Prevention of Mesothelioma

The main preventive action of mesothelioma is to avoid contact with everything that contains asbestos. If you work in a high-risk environment exposed to asbestos, then follow the safety regulations set by the company, such as:

  • Use personal protective equipment while in a work area that is vulnerable to exposure to asbestos.
  • Dispose of the remaining asbestos material in a safe place and not endanger the environment.
  • Do not bring home the clothes and shoes used during work.

In addition, there are several things that can be done to reduce the risk of mesothelioma, such as:

  • Perform routine health checks to detect symptoms or signs of asbestos-related diseases.
  • Quit smoking. Cigarettes do not directly cause mesothelioma, but cigarettes are a trigger factor and can increase the risk of various types of cancer, including mesothelioma.
  • Learn and follow instructions on handling safe asbestos in the surrounding environment. Do not move material that contains asbestos carelessly.

Hopefully the article about mesothelioma is useful for you. Read more health articles on USA Health Articles.


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