Mesothelioma is a cancer that is caused as a result of asbestos exposure. While almost everyone in the world has been exposed to some form of asbestos, workers in the ship building, construction and automotive industries are at higher risk of exposure to asbestos and the development of mesothelioma symptoms. The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma. The other form is abdominal or peritoneal mesothelioma.
Asbestos has been mined in the United States since the 1800s. After World War II, asbestos use increased substantially and was used in everything from textiles to playgrounds to construction insulation. Later, it was discovered that exposure to asbestos substantially increased the risk for development of mesothelioma.
Individuals in the construction industry are at particular risk for mesothelioma symptoms because of the extensive use of asbestos in this industry. Asbestos was used in insulation materials, ceiling tiles and many other construction materials. Demolition of old buildings or walls in preparation for remodeling also raises asbestos fibers in the air, leaving them on clothing, in the hair and on the skin.
Firefighters are also at extreme risk for the development of mesothelioma symptoms due to high exposure to burning asbestos fibers. Firefighters and other first responders to the September 11, 2001 tragedy in New York City have shown a substantial and significant increase in the rates of mesothelioma symptoms compared to the general public.
Mesothelioma symptoms often take years to develop. For many people, symptoms may not begin to appear until 20 to 50 years after exposure. However, for others, like the 9/11 responders, early symptoms may begin to appear within a few years of exposure.
Early symptoms of pleural mesothelioma may be a persistent cough and shortness of breath. Chest pain may also be a persistent symptom.
Abdominal mesothelioma symptoms include swelling or pain in the abdomen, unexplained weight changes, diarrhea, constipation, lumps or masses in the abdomen, anemia and swelling of the feet or ankles.
Other symptoms for both types of mesothelioma include fevers, sweating, night sweats or unexplained weight loss.
Diagnosis of mesothelioma is made by a thorough examination by a doctor and several imaging tests. The doctor will look for mesothelioma symptoms consistent with the illness and also take a thorough background history, including a work history, looking for potential exposure factors.
Imaging tests for mesothelioma include x-rays, CT scans and ultrasound.
Finally, a biopsy of the pleura or peritoneal tissue may be taken to determine the presence of cancer cells.
While there is no cure for mesothelioma, treatment of mesothelioma symptoms includes pain management, chemotherapy and radiation. Because it is very common for mesothelioma to be diagnosed late in the illness, it is not unusual for patients to need to undergo radiation therapy to shrink tumors before being able to undergo surgery to remove the tumor.
For other patients, however, surgical removal of tumors may not be an option, and radiation and chemotherapy, along with pain management are the only options.