Early symptoms of mesothelioma are difficult to identify and therefore often overlooked. Pleural mesothelioma symptoms may first appear as shortness of breath, chest pains or persistent cough or a change in cough pattern. Some patients however, may show no symptoms at all. Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include pain or swelling in the abdomen, nausea, weight loss, bowel obstruction, anemia or swollen feet. Malignant mesothelioma is a cancerous tumor of the pleura (lining of the lung and chest cavity) or peritoneum (lining of the abdomen) that is almost always caused by sustained exposure to asbestos.
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Asbestos increased risk
Mesothelioma is a cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the sac lining of the chest or abdomen. Exposure to airborne asbestos particles increases the risk of developing malignant mesothelioma. Companies manufacturing products containing asbestos have known for over 60 years that asbestos can cause serious diseases.
Diagnosis and Survival
Mesothelioma is serious and life-threatening. By the time cancer is diagnosed the survival time of patients is usually short. Mesothelioma usually spreads throughout the peritoneal or pleural cavity before diagnosis, and complete surgical removal is unlikely. Because of this, the average survival time is only 1 year. If the cancer is found early, approximately 50% of the patients survive 2 years and approximately 20% survive 5 years. Additionally, unlike with other tumors, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are not very effective.
Malignant mesothelioma is a diffuse tumor that affects men more frequently than women. Sustained exposure to asbestos is the predominant risk factor. However, smoking dramatically increases risk amongst the asbestos-exposed. The latent period between asbestos exposure and onset of symptoms can be 20 to 50 years or even longer. The median age of diagnosis is 60. The tumor can spread rapidly to involve the pericardium (sac around the heart), mediastinum, and opposite pleura. Progressive pain and shortness of breath can occur. The tumor is usually associated with a pleural effusion.
Most people diagnosed with mesothelioma worked at jobs where they were exposed to asbestos. Exposure for as few as one or two months can lead to mesothelioma 10 to 50 years later. The long latency period means that people exposed to asbestos in the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s may now be seeing symptoms and are now being diagnosed with mesothelioma.