Mesothelioma is a very rare malignancy in the general population, but found quite commonly in asbestos-exposed individuals. In fact, asbestos is the only known confirmed cause of mesothelioma in the United States. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung, known as the pleura, (pleural mesothelioma) or the lining of the abdominal cavity, known as the peritoneum (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Mesothelioma is a very serious condition which usually first develops many years after a person was first exposed to asbestos. The time it takes for mesothelioma to develop following first exposure to asbestos, known as the latency period, can be from ten to fifty years. People exposed to asbestos, including people who worked at a summer job involving intensive asbestos exposure while they were in their teens or in school, may be shocked to learn many years later that the mesothelioma they developed came from a fleeting, short term exposure to asbestos. That is why an extensive occupational and asbestos exposure history is explored with each potential client suffering with mesothelioma to discover the source of their disease.
The first symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include one or more of the following: shortness of breath, chest or pleural pain (such as experienced with pleuritis), cough, weakness and a loss of weight or appetite. Often, pleural mesothelioma is accompanied by the accumulation of pleural fluid which can cause significant discomfort and chest pain. That fluid can be removed and analyzed by a physician for malignant cells.
Peritoneal mesothelioma may cause loss of weight or appetite as well as severe cramps or diarrhea.
Mesothelioma can be detected and diagnosed by a variety of techniques including CAT Scan and/or chest x-ray, cytology (which is examination of fluid removed from the pleural space) or pathology (which is examination of tissue removed by surgery). The most effective and certain way to diagnose mesothelioma is through a biopsy of pleural tissue. Not surprisingly, the more tissue that can be examined, the more definite the diagnosis can be. A transbronchial biopsy, taken through a tube inserted down the throat, will not require surgery but will also result in a very small tissue sample which may or may not be able to confirm a diagnosis. A more invasive surgical procedure, while less physically desirable, will provide more tissue and greater chance for confirming the diagnosis.
There is presently no known cure for mesothelioma, although a number of treatments have been developed and attempted to help contain the spread of the disease and thus the longevity of the mesothelioma victim.