Guest Blog: Mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma cancer is a rare and very serious disease caused typically by long-time, long-ago occupational exposure to asbestos.
It strikes mostly seniors, often turning a well-planned retirement upside down for patients and their families.
Although there is no definitive cure, recent treatment advances and better diagnostics have allowed mesothelioma specialists to take a more curative approach if the cancer is caught before it has metastasized.
Mesothelioma is no longer viewed as the death sentence it was a decade ago. Surgeries have become more advanced; chemotherapy drugs are more personalized; and radiation is more precise.
Gene therapy, immunotherapy and a variety of clinical trials with the latest advances in medicine are available to provide hope where once there was none.
“When hope is part of the equation, anything is possible,” said mesothelioma specialist and thoracic surgeon Dr. David Sugarbaker, director of the Lung Institute at the Baylor College of Medicine. “I remain optimistic that we can put together the right combination of patients and treatments to effect a cure.”
A Rare, Aggressive Cancer
Mesothelioma is diagnosed in only 3,000 people annually in the United States – compared to 220,000 with lung cancer – and usually after the age 60, primarily because of a long latency period (20-50 years) between asbestos exposure and obvious symptoms.
It begins with the inhalation or ingestion of the toxic asbestos fibers. They can become lodged in the membrane around the lungs or the abdomen, cause inflammation and eventually scarring, which can lead to a myriad of serious problems, including asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma cancer.
Pleural mesothelioma, which starts in the thoracic cavity, is the most common. Peritoneal mesothelioma, in the abdominal cavity, is responsible for 25 percent of the cases and typically comes with a better prognosis.
Because this cancer is rare, it’s vital to find a specialist who treats it regularly and understands its intricacies. Many doctors, including some oncologists, rarely see it, taking a more nihilistic approach to treatment.
A specialist can devise a personalized, multidisciplinary approach that may extend survival time considerably.
While the majority of patients live less than 18 months after diagnosis, and many receive only palliative care, some patients today are living three, four or five years beyond their life expectancies with the latest treatments.
Early symptoms will include shortness of breath, fatigue, chest discomfort, muscle soreness and a lingering dry cough. As the cancer progresses, those problems will intensify.
Advice for Patients and Families
If you or a family member has been diagnosed with this crippling cancer, some advice to follow:
- Find a specialty center. This will improve greatly your odds of surviving.
- Explore clinical trials. This is where you will find the latest, cutting-edge therapies.
- Stay engaged. Don’t try to fight this alone. Lean on family and friends, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Be active. Force yourself to exercise daily. Get up and walk, even when treatments wear you down.
- Join a support group specifically for mesothelioma. Other patients and families can become a wealth of information. It will take away the feeling of isolation.
Always remember to be aggressive in your approach to treatment. Ask for second opinions and get answers. Discuss various treatment options with your doctors.
For many patients, the power of prayer is crucial to their survival. Don’t discount it.
Also remind yourself to eat well and learn what foods feed the cancer, and what foods the cancer doesn’t like.
Above all, surround yourself with positive people.
Tim Povtak is a content writer for The Mesothelioma Center and Asbestos.com, an informational source for mesothelioma patients and families.