Mesothelioma Common Questions
What is Mesothelioma? What is the difference between pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma is a disease in which a cancerous tumor grows on the mesothelium - the sac lining the internal body cavities. The specific type of mesothelioma is named for the tissue where the cancer started. Pleural mesothelioma starts in the chest, in the pleura that surrounds the lungs. It makes up about 70% of mesothelioma cases. Peritoneal mesothelioma starts in the lining of the abdominal cavity.
Although sometimes referred to as "asbestos lung cancer", mesothelioma is not the same as lung cancer. Lung cancers occur inside the lung itself; mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the lung. Mesothelioma is rare, striking fewer than 3000 Americans per year.
How do you get malignant mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos, once regarded as a miracle mineral, was popular due its lightweight but tough characteristics as well as for its heat-resistant properties. This naturally occurring mineral was used in many commercial and consumer products, from construction materials such as cement, roofing shingles and insulation, to consumer and industrial applications such as hair dryers, automobile brake pads and pipe insulation.
Most people with malignant mesothelioma worked on jobs where they breathed asbestos. Others were exposed to asbestos in a household environment, often without knowing it.
How much exposure does it take to get the disease? What is the latency period?
Very little exposure can result in mesothelioma. Sometimes people who worked with asbestos for as little as one or two months get mesothelioma. The "latency period" refers to the time between asbestos exposure and diagnosis of the disease. For mesothelioma, the latency period can be decades long, and people exposed in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s are now being diagnosed.
What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?
Our mesothelioma symptoms page goes into detail about the signs of this cancer. Please note that it is important to seek professional medical advice when trying to diagnose for mesothelioma. The major symptoms include:
* Shortness of breath caused by expanding pleural effusion
* Persistent dry cough
* Night sweats
* Pain under the rib cage
* Swelling or lumps in the abdomen
* Unexpected weight loss
How do doctors treat malignant mesothelioma?
Each patient has an individualized treatment plan which takes into account the type and stage of the cancer as well as the patient's overall health. Traditional mesothelioma treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of these.
Is there any promising research or are there promising new drugs for mesothelioma?
Scientists and doctors are engaged in research at various cancer centers all over the United States. Researchers are constantly trying to develop new and more effective drugs as well as new treatment techniques. In the past few years, there have been several major advances in the management of mesothelioma, including more accurate staging, improvements in surgical techniques and postoperative care, new chemotherapy regimens, and new radiotherapy techniques such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy. Some of this research is being conducted through clinical trials, for which you may be eligible.
What should I do if I think I've been exposed to asbestos but don't have mesothelioma?
You probably will not get this rare disease, but you should remain vigilant and get regular check-ups. Let your doctor know about your asbestos exposure.
New Treatment Looks Promising for Mesothelioma Cancer Patients
new cancer treatment is being investigated by researchers at Dartmouth Medical School and Amtek, both of which are located in Hanover, New Hampshire. The new treatment strategy may offer fresh hope to cancer patients who are fighting off tumors that refuse to respond to traditional treatment options.
The new study was recently published in the open access, peer reviewed journal PLoS ONE. Researchers developed the new treatment by employing a combination of two chemical agents to selectively kill tumors while simultaneously protecting healthy cells.
The study builds on previous research that suggests that an enzyme called methylthioadenosine phosphorylase (MTAP) is missing in 30-70% of certain types of cancer. Cancers lacking in this enzyme include: lung cancer, mesothelioma, pancreatic cancer, and T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Mesothelioma is rare, but attacks the body rapidly. It is not uncommon for the disease to kill within months of being diagnosed.
The study, lead by Dr. Martin Lubin and Adam Lubin of Amtek, builds on this existing knowledge of MTAP. Dr. Lubin's strategy involves giving two drugs to cancer patients. One of the drugs is highly toxic, and can damage both cancer cells and healthy cells.
However, the second drug protects healthy tissues from the toxins in the first drug, effectively allowing doctors to use a much higher concentration of the first drug than was previously possible. Two of the drugs studied are thioguanine and fluorouracil, both of which are already in clinical use. However, due to the toxic side effects, the drugs are only given in very low doses.
The study shows that it is possible to attack tumors that are resistant to low doses of these toxic drugs while protecting healthy tissue. The study was conducted in vitro, and animal studies are now underway. "We hope that successful animal studies will lead to clinical application as soon as possible," Dr. Lubin said.