Mesothelioma is a potentially deadly cancer which affects the mesothelium, which is the protective sac that covers the body’s internal organs. This cancer is developed from exposure to asbestos and those at high risk are people who have worked with asbestos and had regular exposure to it. Ingestion of the dust and fibers from asbestos is what causes the cells to corrupt and become malignant. Mesothelioma has a very long latency period, which means that it can be decades from exposure to asbestos before any symptoms become evident. Therefore, many people who worked with asbestos and have the disease don’t realize for 30 or 40 years.
Mesothelioma can be benign, but the most common form is the malignant one. It is a notoriously difficult disease to diagnose for a couple of reasons. First, because of its long latency period the symptoms do not manifest until much later in the victim’s life so it is often too late to help by the time a diagnosis is made. Secondly, even when the symptoms do present themselves, they are so non-specific that even the most experienced doctor could put them down to any number of more common illnesses that display the same symptoms.
For this reason, it is extremely important for people that have worked with asbestos at any time during their lives to let their doctor know. This way, the doctor can make a more accurate diagnosis based upon this information should any of the symptoms manifest. Detecting the disease early on can make all the difference between effective treatment and a very short life span.
The three main types of mesothelioma are pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, and pericardial mesothelioma. These are so called depending upon the part of the body in which the cancer forms. The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma. This is where the cancer affects the lungs and the protective lining and cavity of the lungs. The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma result from pleural effusion, which is a build up of fluid between the lung lining and the chest cavity. Sufferers of pleural mesothelioma may experience some or all of the following symptoms: difficulty in breathing, difficulty in swallowing, shortness of breath, persistent coughing, weight loss, fever, coughing up of blood, and rasping.
The next type, which is a slightly rarer form of the cancer, is peritoneal mesothelioma. This is where the cancer affects the stomach and abdomen. The cancer can start in the abdominal area and spread to other parts of the body, but the tumours that press against the wall of the abdomen can cause some or all of the following symptoms: abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, breathing problems, chest pain, bowel obstruction, anaemia, fever, and blood clotting abnormalities.
The rarest form of this asbestos related cancer is known as pericardial mesothelioma. This is where the cancer affects the heart and the cavity that surrounds the heart. The tumours affecting pericardial mesothelioma patients can cause some or all of these symptoms: chest pain, shortness of breath, trouble breathing, persistent coughing, and palpitations.
If you have ever been exposed to asbestos or work with asbestos it is important to remain vigilant for any signs of this cancer or other health effects. These days, breakthroughs are being made in relation to blood tests to detect the presence of mesothelioma far earlier on, so initiating early treatment and diagnosis could make a big difference.
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