Understanding Your Risk for Mesothelioma

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Malignant mesothelioma often just called mesothelioma — is a rare, fast-growing cancer. It starts in the mesothelium, the thin lining that protects the outer surface of organs, including the lungs, stomach, and heart.

Most people who develop mesothelioma have lived or worked around asbestos. While a diagnosis of mesothelioma is unusual, see your health care provider if you have signs and symptoms that worry you.

What Are the Symptoms Of Mesothelioma?

Early symptoms may be the same as those caused by other health conditions, so they can be easy to ignore or mistake for common, minor ailments. Symptoms depend on where the cancer is.

Pleural mesothelioma (in the chest) can cause:

  • Breathing problems like shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest or lower back pain
  • Fever
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Hoarseness

Peritoneal mesothelioma (in the abdomen) can cause:

  • Abdominal (belly) pain
  • Swelling or fluid in your belly
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Fever
  • Feeling tired

If you have any of these symptoms — especially if you’ve been exposed to asbestos — see your health care provider.

Most people who develop mesothelioma have lived or worked around asbestos.

Are You At Risk For Mesothelioma?

The exact cause of someone’s mesothelioma may not be known, but there is a strong link between mesothelioma and asbestos. Most people who develop the disease have worked or lived around asbestos. It’s a big concern if you work in certain industries, including construction, insulation manufacturing, and textile manufacturing.

Older houses and buildings may also contain asbestos. If you’re concerned about asbestos in your home, call a trained expert to run tests. Don’t try to remove it yourself. 

Other risk factors include:

  • Cancer treatment with high doses of radiation to the chest or belly
  • Being age 65 or older
  • Exposure to minerals called zeolites, which are like asbestos

P-W-WMN94475-Mesothelioma-Risk_350How Is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

Mesothelioma can be tricky to diagnose because it may look like lung cancer or some noncancerous conditions. Your doctor will start by giving you a physical exam and taking your medical history. She may do these tests or procedures:

  • X-ray: An X-ray is a type of energy beam that provides a picture of areas inside the body.
  • CT: A procedure that takes detailed pictures of the chest and abdomen.
  • Biopsy: This involves removing cells or tissue to be examined under a microscope to check for signs of cancer. Most biopsies are done under anesthesia in an operating room.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you’ll probably need other tests to help your health care team learn more about your cancer.

How Is Mesothelioma Treated?

Treatment choices depend on the type of mesothelioma, test results, and the stage of the cancer. The stage is how much and how far the cancer has spread (metastasized) in your body. Mesothelioma may be treated with one or more of the following:

  • Surgery: Different procedures are used based on an individual’s diagnosis.
  • Radiation: This therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells.  
  • Targeted therapy: These drugs treat cancer at a biological level. They can fix or change a gene or protein that helps cancer grow.
  • Immunotherapy: This type of treatment boosts the body’s immune system to fight cancer better. It is still being studied for the treatment of mesothelioma.

Ask your doctor about clinical trials or research studies. These trials test new treatments or find better ways to use current treatments.

Small Steps: Be Prepared
After your cancer diagnosis, ask your doctor plenty of questions about your treatment choices and what to expect during recovery.