Malignant mesothelioma is a rare cancer that affects the cells lining various organs of the body, particularly in the chest, abdomen and the heart. These cells grow rapidly and can eventually encase the involved organ.
Malignant mesothelioma may not become apparent until 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing, pain in the chest or both
- Hoarseness, difficulty swallowing or coughing up of blood
- Increase in waist size or abdominal pain if cancer cells are growing in the abdomen
Causes and Risk Factors
Mesothelioma is most commonly diagnosed in patients 50 to 60 years of age. It occurs five times more often in men than women. Risk factors include:
- Exposure to asbestos. Needle-shaped asbestos fibers that cannot be cleared by the lungs cause cells to become cancerous.
- Exposure to beryllium and zeolite
Mesothelioma can be diagnosed through several tests, including:
- X-rays. Chest or abdominal X-rays can detect an accumulation of fluid in the lungs or abdomen.
- Fluid sample examination. Doctors look for a substance called carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) - high levels of which may suggest the presence of lung cancer rather than mesothelioma.
- Biopsy. To confirm the diagnosis, a sample of tissue may be taken for examination under the microscope.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan. These scans check other parts of the body for the disease through use of a computerized image.
Because of the aggressive nature of malignant mesothelioma, treatment is difficult. Therapy may include a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and photodynamic therapy. The amount of tissue removed during surgery is determined by the extent of the tumor.
- Radiation therapy. This treatment involves the administration of X-rays to the affected tissues for a specified period of time.
- Chemotherapy. Drugs, such as carboplatin, cisplatin or doxorubicin, are injected into the veins every three to four weeks.
- Photodynamic therapy. Administering Photoferin II causes the cells to die when it is activated with a special light.