If you have been exposed to asbestos during your lifetime, you are at risk for developing a deadly, incurable cancer known as mesothelioma. Unfortunately, mesothelioma has a latency period, meaning it takes a long time to develop. Clinical mesothelioma symptoms usually do not begin to manifest until 15 to 70 years after asbestos exposure. For this reason, mesothelioma is exceptionally rare in individuals younger than the age of 45.
The latency period for each patient is unique, so mesothelioma cancers may develop quicker in some than others. There is a direct correlation between the amount of exposure and the risk of getting mesothelioma.
How Does Asbestos Cause Mesothelioma?
Asbestos fibers, inhaled or swallowed, penetrate the surface of the mesothelium, a membrane that lines the pleural cavity where your lungs are; the peritoneum, which lines your abdominal cavity; and pericardium or heart sac. When the fibers damage the cells of the mesothelium, irregular cell division can progress into a malignant tumor within the mesothelium. When the tumor becomes sufficiently large and diffuse, this process causes symptoms such as painful coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
What is the Prognosis for Mesothelioma Patients?
Mesothelioma's latency period makes it challenging to diagnose because when the symptoms do finally arise, they are often mistaken as respiratory problems at first and the cancer is already very large and evasive. In addition to latency periods, prognosis and survival rates also vary from patient to patient. Typically the prognosis is not favorable, and the average lifespan after diagnosis is 18 months. However, lifespan and treatment options will depend on the following factors:
- Stage of the disease - A diagnosis at Stage 1 or Stage 2 improves the chances of survival for an extended amount of time. Stage 3 or Stage 4 mesothelioma means that the cancer is at a more deadly level.
- Type of mesothelioma - Pleural mesothelioma is the most common and is easier to treat. Peritoneal mesothelioma patients tend to live the longest on average. However, rarer pericardial mesothelioma presents challenges in treatment and a shorter life span for the patient.
- Operability of the tumor - Surgical procedures can possibly remove a tumor in early stage mesothelioma, depending on the age and health of a patient. However, studies on the results of surgery have been disappointing, with on average no increase in life span.
- Other health problems - Older patients suffering from other medical problems have a lower survivability rate. For example, heart and kidney problems can limit treatment options.
- Treatment resources - An experienced and knowledgeable doctor implementing an aggressive treatment plan can impact the life expectancy and overall quality of that remaining time for their mesothelioma patients. Certain targeted chemotherapy in certain patients has proven to be effective in extending life span. But, ultimately, there is no known cure.
If you or a family member have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, immediate medical attention is vital. In addition, legal representation is important to hold an employer or manufacturer accountable for negligence in the form of asbestos exposure.